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Haribhaktivilāsa as the meeting of Vedic, Tantric and Puranic ritualism

Lectures of the J.P. And Beena Khaitan Visiting Fellow
Dr. Måns Broo
8 Jun 2017

The Haribhaktivilāsa (HBV) is an extensive Sanskrit ritual compendium written around 1534 by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmin, a grand-disciple of the celebrated Bengali mystic and reformer Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya (1486–1533), the founder of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava saṃpradāya. Though being one of the oldest of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava texts, the HBV has received little academic study so far. No doubt this has been partly because scholars of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism have largely focused on the saṃpradāya's theology, especially in relation to the concept of rasa, but also because so little of this text is original. More than 90% of its verses are cited from other texts.

In this talk, based on my present text-critical work with this book, I will try to shed light on some of its vexing questions, such as its authorship, primary and secondary sources, purpose, Tantric influences and neglect or downplaying of practices thought typical for Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. Further, by looking at its manuscript history, I will offer some tentative thoughts on the spread of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava texts in the early 17th century.   

Dr. Måns Broo is a university researcher in comparative religion at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. His main research interests include yoga – both its history and contemporary forms – and the intersections between Vaiṣṇavism and Tantrism in pre-modern Bengal. He is at present engaged in compiling a critical edition and translation of the mediaeval Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava ritual compilation Haribhaktivilāsa

What does it mean to be a playful agent? The Kashmiri Śaiva reformulation of Naṭarāja

Dr Aleksandra Wenta
5 Jun 2017

This lecture focuses on the Kashmiri Śaiva reformulation of Naṭarāja—Śiva as the Dancer—found in the work of Maheśvarānanda (12‐13th century) who lived in Chidambaram during the rule of the Cōḻa kings. Maheśvarānanda’s concept of the Dancer has a structural complexity that leads him to an alternative formulation of the problem of the agency of consciousness. Moreover, this implicit complexity is additionally complicated by the existence of the all-encompassing metaphysical axiom of play that is presupposed in the Dancer’s ontology. Play offers a site to performative reality that constantly watches the character of the Dancer’s own transformation. This is the play of bondage and liberation understood as the self‐given laws of the actor’s dance. For Maheśvarānanda, play suggests the theatricalization of reality in which the identity of the Dancer is ascertained by his capability of assuming all the roles. Thus, the Dancer is the Actor displaying the cosmic drama that presupposes the capacity to enact or perform diversity. Maheśvarānanda begins his exposition of the play of bondage and liberation with a depiction of the Dancer who constitutes the essential nature of both Śiva and the individual self (puruṣa). Maheśvarānanda advocates the view that Śiva/puruṣa is a Dancer, a free agent because of his agency to constantly perform the Five Acts. This lecture will concentrates on five thematic sections: 1) What does it means to be a playful agent? 2) The play of bondage and liberation. 3) The dance of Śiva, the dance of puruṣa: Discovering the autonomous agency of the Five Acts. 4) Maheśvarānanda’s critique of Sāṃkhya’s unmoved mover. 5) Śiva the magician and the deception of his Māyā.

Aleksandra Wenta is currently pursuing her second DPhil in Oriental Studies at The Queen's College, University of Oxford. She is also assistant professor in the School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religions at Nālandā University, India. She has co-edited [with Purushottama Bilimoria] Emotions in Indian Thought-Systems, Routledge (New Delhi, London, New York) and published several peer-reviewed articles. Aleksandra is also a researcher at FIND (India-Europe Foundation for New Dialogues), Italy.

Caitanya and the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana

Early Modern Hindu Theologies Seminars
Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
25 May 2017

The writings of the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana have, since the early seventeenth century, been the foundation for all Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theology, and it is hard to find in the tradition any figure that is invested with greater authority than these authors. Some of the best scholars of the Gauḍīya tradition, such as Sushil Kumar De, Ramakanta Chakravarti, and Hitesranjan Sanyal, have argued that unlike the Vaiṣṇavas of Bengal, who composed several hagiographies of Caitanya, the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana cared little for Caitanya, at least theologically. Though the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana offer homage to Caitanya in most of their writings, their theology centres on Kṛṣṇa not Caitanya, and it is not until the early seventeenth century, when their student Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja composed the Caitanya-caritāmṛta and used their ideas to develop a comprehensive theology of Caitanya's life, that the Bengali tradition of Caitanya devotion was synthesised with the Kṛṣṇa theology of Vṛndāvana.

This lecture aims to challenge this view. First I will attempt to demonstrate that these authors did indeed have a theology of Caitanya, and will examine how Caitanya figures into their theology of devotion to Kṛṣṇa. In the light of this, I will then explore the reasons why the Gosvāmīs sometimes chose not to emphasise Caitanya's divinity in their writings. Drawing on their own works as well as other early historical sources, I will argue that they envisioned a non-sectarian Vaiṣṇava culture in Vṛndāvana, that included the various other Vaiṣṇava groups active in the region at the time.

Rembert Lutjeharms (DPhil, Oxford 2010) is the Librarian at the OCHS and a Tutor in Hinduism at the Faculty of Theology and Religion.

Rādhā Tantra and the agonies and ecstasies of studying obscure texts

Lectures of the J.P. And Beena Khaitan Visiting Fellow
Dr. Måns Broo
11 May 2017

The Rādhā Tantra (RT), also known as Vāsudevarahasya (Vāsudeva’s secret), is a fairly extensive, anonymous Tantric work dealing with the story of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Contrary to what the name might indicate, the RT is not a Vaiṣṇava text; rather, it is a Śākta text giving a Śākta reinterpretation of a Vaiṣṇava story. The RT is by all standards a late Tantra, written in poor Sanskrit, seldom quoted by Tantric authorities and little studied today. Plainly said, this is not an important text.

Nevertheless, in this talk, I will argue for the importance of studying such obscure texts. This I will do by taking a close look at the historical context of the RT, its fascinating manuscript history, its intertextualities and doctrines, all of which paint a vivid picture of the meeting of Śāktism and Vaiṣṇavism in 17th century Bengal. Who wrote this text, and why? Considering such questions, I argue, will not only help us understand this particular text, but also give us a larger picture of the history of religion in Bengal in general.  

Dr. Måns Broo is a university researcher in comparative religion at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. His main research interests include yoga – both its history and contemporary forms – and the intersections between Vaiṣṇavism and Tantrism in pre-modern Bengal. He is at present engaged in compiling a critical edition and translation of the mediaeval Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava ritual compilation Haribhaktivilāsa

Constructing a theological basis for social engagement during the rule of Jai Singh II in Early Modern North India

Early Modern Hindu Theologies Seminars
Sunit Patel
4 May 2017

While the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition does not go as far as to reject the practice of ritual (karma) overtly, its early teachers generally forewarn bhakti practitioners of engagement in karma. Consequently, the place of karma, and hence of social responsibilities (varṇāśrama-dharma), in the life of a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava is rarely directly discussed in the early phase of the tradition. However, in the early 18th century a wave of texts appear attempting to devise a bridge between bhakti and karma. These texts appear to have been produced as the tradition enters into a dialogue with Jai Singh II (1688-1743) of the Kachvaha dynasty. Jai Singh was concerned that the various schools active in his kingdom endorsed social engagement, in relation to varṇāśrama and karma. In this presentation, I will examine the Karma-vivṛti, a manuscript held in the library of the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum in Jaipur. The text is an exposition on karma and its its relation to bhakti, written by the chief advisor to Jai Singh, Kṛṣṇadeva Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācarya, a prominent Gauḍīya theologian in Jaipur. Kṛṣṇadeva goes to great lengths to endorse karma and thus social engagement, drawing extensively upon the earliest teachers of the tradition, in an attempt to develop a theological and scriptural argument for the compatibility of karma and bhakti.

Sunit Patel is currently pursuing a DPhil in Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford. His reseach interests include the intersection between religious movements and political power, Indian intellectual history, and the early modern world.

‘The lotus in the mire’: the Indian reception of Tājika astrology

Dr. Martin Gansten
3 May 2017

Tājika is the designation of the Sanskritized Perso-Arabic astrology that arose as an independent school following the second wave of astrological transmission into India in the early centuries of the second millennium CE. It is thus the form of Indian astrology most closely resembling western medieval and Renaissance astrology, which similarly rests on Arabic foundations. Although ultimately derived from the same Greek origins as classical Indian astrology, Tājika comprises many technical elements not included in the first wave of transmission about a millennium earlier. While the earliest known Tājika works in Sanskrit appear to have been composed by authors who were either Jains or members of the non-Brahmin Prāgvāṭa (Porwad) community encompassing both Jains and Hindus, the most influential of these authors was reinvented as a Brahmin by later Tājika tradition. Not all Brahmins were accepting of the foreign science, however, and many Tājika authors felt the need to defend their study of it by arguments that range from the mythological to the pragmatic. In today’s nationalist climate, where apologetic strategies are once more called for, Tājika is often subsumed under the modern paradigm of ‘Vedic astrology’, its extra-Indian origins largely forgotten, ignored, or even denied.

Dr. Martin Gansten is a Sanskritist and a historian of religion specializing in astrological and divinatory traditions. He received his doctorate from Lund University, Sweden, where he has taught since 1998 and is now docent.

Hermeneutics, Philosophy and Religion: Gadamer: Week 6

Dr. Jessica Frazier
24 Feb 2017

Classic problems in Philosophy, Religion and the Humanities more broadly can be approached through the branch of phenomenology that Hans-Georg Gadamer termed ‘Philosophical Hermeneutics’. Texts become living objects of dialogue. Spirituality becomes a process through which the self grows. Community becomes a form of expanded selfhood, and religious truth claims become an invitation to adapt oneself to a new picture of the world. These seminars will explore key themes, drawing on Gadamer’s writings on beauty, health and ethics, Plato and Hegel, spiritual growth and multicultural society.

These 1 hour seminars will explore key themes in the Study of the Humanities in general, and religion in particular:

Week 2: Redefining Truth and Text—Living Language

Week 3: Hermeneutic Spirituality—Locating the individual in the Whole

Week 4: Defining Self, Body, and Agency—Self as shifting nexus

Week 5: Rethinking Community and Pluralism—From dialogues to choruses

Week 6: Science vs Religion Truths—From prediction to transformation

Week 7: Rethinking Divinity—Alternative forms of 'God'

More than Manu: Trends and Topics in Early Modern Dharmaśāstra

Early Modern Hindu Theologies Seminars
Christopher Fleming
23 Feb 2017

Convenor: Dr. Rembert Lutjeharms

Dharmaśāstra is typically associated with the ‘Laws of Manu,’ with legalistic religious conservatism, with caste prejudice and with patriarchy. Indeed, the tendency is to view Dharmaśāstra as a antiquated, unchanging tradition which has remained stubbornly static since the turn of common era. This paper complicates these misconceptions by giving an overview of the dynamic developments within Dharmaśāstra during the early modern period of South Asia (roughly 1450-1750). I explore three key features of early modern Dharmaśāstra: a) the emergence of dedicated monographs that addressed distinct Dharmaśāstric topics such as caste and inheritance; b) the growing importance of Mīmāṃsā and Nyāya as analytic tools in Dharmaśāstric reasoning; and c) the increasing role of Brahman Dharmaśāstrins in regional religious and legal disputes. The thrust of my paper is that early modern Dharmaśāstra was dynamic, varied, and enmeshed in many of changes and challenges which characterized early modernity in South Asia.

Christopher Fleming is a DPhil Candidate at the Oriental Institute and a member of Balliol College. His research interests include the intersection between Dharmaśāstra, Mīmāṃsā and Nyāya, South Asian legal history and comparative jurisprudence.

When Muslim and Hindu Worlds Meet in Fiction: Mapping the Bengali Imaginaire

Lectures of the J.P. And Beena Khaitan Visiting Fellow
Prof. Tony K. Stewart
16 Feb 2017

A number of Bangla tales dedicated to the fictional or mythic holy men (pīrs) and women (bibīs) in the Muslim community have circulated widely over the last five centuries alongside the tales of their historical counterparts. They are still printed and told today, and performed regularly in public, especially in the Sunderbans, the mangrove swamps in the southern reaches of Bangladesh and West Bengal. Among them are figures such as the itinerant veterinarian Mānik Pīr, the tamer of tigers Baḍakhān Gājī and his female counterpart Bonbibī, and the matron of cholera Olābibī. Because of the way they defy the strictly demarcated categories that have come to define Hindu and Muslim in the last two centuries, Orientalist scholars, conservative Muslim factions, linguists, and literary historians have until recently rejected or ignored altogether this group of stories as as purely entertaining with no religious, linguistic, or literary merit. I argue that not only are these fictions religious, they create an important space within the limiting strictures of Islamic theology, history, and law that allows people to exercise their imagination to investigate alternative worlds. These texts simultaneously offer a critique of religion and society through their parodies, rather than articulating doctrine or theology. Because they are fictions, any approach to their religiosity must use hermeneutic strategies suited to the literary world in which they operate. But the imagination exercised in these tales is not unlimited, rather the parameters of the discursive arena in which they operate—the imaginaire—can be defined by two types of presuppositions and two types of intertextuality that both enable and constrain what is possible to express. Using the example of the tales of the conflict between Dakṣiṇ Rāy and Baḍakhān Gāji, and the later appropriation by Bonbibī, we can identify not only the structures of the imaginaire, but the processes by which different authors several centuries apart construct and inhabit that discursive space for their own distinct religious purposes.

Prof. Tony K. Stewart specializes in the literatures and religions of the Bangla-speaking world, with a special emphasis on the early modern period. His most recent monograph, The Final Word: the Caitanya Caritāmṛta and the Grammar of Religious Tradition (Oxford, 2010), culminated a decades-long study of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava hagiographical tradition that included translating with Edward C. Dimock, Jr., The Caitanya Caritāmṛta of Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, Harvard Oriental Series no. 56 (Harvard, 1999). From the literatures of the Muslim–Hindu mythic figure, Satya Pīr, he published Fabulous Females and Peerless Pīrs: Tales of Mad Adventure in Old Bengal (Oxford, 2004) and is currently working on a monograph on the popular Bangla romance literatures of the pīrs. With prominent American poet Chase Twichell, he has published the first ever translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s pseudonymous Bhānusiṃha poetry titled The Lover of God (Copper Canyon, 2003). Stewart currently holds the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Humanities and serves as a Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. 

Hermeneutics, Philosophy and Religion: Gadamer: Week 3

Dr. Jessica Frazier
3 Feb 2017

Classic problems in Philosophy, Religion and the Humanities more broadly can be approached through the branch of phenomenology that Hans-Georg Gadamer termed ‘Philosophical Hermeneutics’. Texts become living objects of dialogue. Spirituality becomes a process through which the self grows. Community becomes a form of expanded selfhood, and religious truth claims become an invitation to adapt oneself to a new picture of the world. These seminars will explore key themes, drawing on Gadamer’s writings on beauty, health and ethics, Plato and Hegel, spiritual growth and multicultural society.

These 1 hour seminars will explore key themes in the Study of the Humanities in general, and religion in particular:

Week 2: Redefining Truth and Text—Living Language

Week 3: Hermeneutic Spirituality—Locating the individual in the Whole

Week 4: Defining Self, Body, and Agency—Self as shifting nexus

Week 5: Rethinking Community and Pluralism—From dialogues to choruses

Week 6: Science vs Religion Truths—From prediction to transformation

Week 7: Rethinking Divinity—Alternative forms of 'God'

The Colloquy between Muhammad and Saytān: The 18th century Bangla Iblichnāmā of Garībullā

Lectures of the J.P. And Beena Khaitan Visiting Fellow
Prof. Tony K. Stewart
31 Jan 2017

In 1287 bs [=1879/80 ce] a short Bangla work was published in Calcutta under the title of Iblichnāmār punthi by the highly productive scholar Garībullā, who had composed the text about a century earlier. This somewhat unusual text is a colloquy between the Prophet Muhammad and the fallen Iblich (Ar. Iblīs), also called Saytān. The bulk of this fictional text is an interrogation of Iblich regarding the nature of his followers and their actions. The text is prefaced in its opening verses with a somewhat uneasy statement about the nature of the book and whether it was even appropriate to compose such a text it in the vernacular Bangla, a move that immediately draws attention to the language of the text itself and its intended audience. The opening section moves from one language conundrum to another until the attentive reader begins to realize that the fact one is reading the text in Bangla suggests that question and those that followed were actually moot, a set up for something else. Soon, the logic of the argument makes clear that such a conversation between the always untruthful Iblich and the always truthful Muhammad could only happen in a fiction—and it is perfectly fine to write fiction in Bangla. This move to fiction immediately alters the approach of the reader, who is rewarded with humorous, often naughty descriptions of the depraved and licentious acts of Saytān’s lackeys, parodies of the standard ’aḥādīth literatures regarding proper conduct—everything a good practicing Muslim is not! This fictional inversion of all that is good and proper titillates the reader in its mad escape from the Bakhtinian monologic of theology, history, and law that governs the discourse of the conservative Sunni (Hanbalite) mainstream. It is the exaggerated negative image of the law as seen from the imagined squalid underbelly of Bengali society.

(This seminar is jointly sponsored by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, the Asian Studies Centre at St. Anthony’s College, and the History Faculty.)

Prof. Tony K. Stewart specializes in the literatures and religions of the Bangla-speaking world, with a special emphasis on the early modern period. His most recent monograph, The Final Word: the Caitanya Caritāmṛta and the Grammar of Religious Tradition (Oxford, 2010), culminated a decades-long study of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava hagiographical tradition that included translating with Edward C. Dimock, Jr., The Caitanya Caritāmṛta of Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, Harvard Oriental Series no. 56 (Harvard, 1999). From the literatures of the Muslim–Hindu mythic figure, Satya Pīr, he published Fabulous Females and Peerless Pīrs: Tales of Mad Adventure in Old Bengal (Oxford, 2004) and is currently working on a monograph on the popular Bangla romance literatures of the pīrs. With prominent American poet Chase Twichell, he has published the first ever translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s pseudonymous Bhānusiṃha poetry titled The Lover of God (Copper Canyon, 2003). Stewart currently holds the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Humanities and serves as a Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University.

Hermeneutics, Philosophy and Religion: Gadamer: Week 2

Dr. Jessica Frazier
27 Jan 2017

Classic problems in Philosophy, Religion and the Humanities more broadly can be approached through the branch of phenomenology that Hans-Georg Gadamer termed ‘Philosophical Hermeneutics’. Texts become living objects of dialogue. Spirituality becomes a process through which the self grows. Community becomes a form of expanded selfhood, and religious truth claims become an invitation to adapt oneself to a new picture of the world. These seminars will explore key themes, drawing on Gadamer’s writings on beauty, health and ethics, Plato and Hegel, spiritual growth and multicultural society.

These 1 hour seminars will explore key themes in the Study of the Humanities in general, and religion in particular:

Week 2: Redefining Truth and Text—Living Language

Week 3: Hermeneutic Spirituality—Locating the individual in the Whole

Week 4: Defining Self, Body, and Agency—Self as shifting nexus

Week 5: Rethinking Community and Pluralism—From dialogues to choruses

Week 6: Science vs Religion Truths—From prediction to transformation

Week 7: Rethinking Divinity—Alternative forms of 'God'

Influence of Kashmir on the Tantric traditions of Orissa

Shivdasani lecture
Prof. G. C. Tripathi
24 Nov 2016

The paper shall try to trace the close relationship of the Orissan Tantrism and also Vishnuism to Kashmir of the 10th-12th Century. It were most probably the Orissan students learning in the Pathashalas of Kashmir, mentioned (sarcastically) by Kshemendra who brought the philosophy and ritual of Kashmir along with manuscripts from there to Orissa which enriched Orissan Vishnuism overlaid by Tantric practices. The paper would also shed light on the historical aspect of this relationship.

Prof. Gaya Charan Tripathi was born at Agra (India). He went to school and pursued higher studies at Agra, Pune, and Benares. He has a Masters in Sanskrit (1959) from the University of Agra with a Gold Medal and first position in the University. He received his Ph.D. from the same University in 1962 on Vedic Deities and their subsequent development in the Epics and the Puranas supported by a Fellowship of the Ministry of Education. He is a Fellow of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for Higher Studies in Germany. He has a Dr.Phil. from the University of Freiburg/Br (1966) in History of Religions, Comparative Indo-European Philology, and Latin (besides Indology) as elective subjects in the grade Summa cum Laude. D.Litt. in Ancient Indian History and Culture from the University of Allahabad on ‘A critical Study of the daily Puja Ceremony of the Jagannatha Temple in Puri’ (published under the title Communication with God). He has taught at the Universities of Aligarh, Udaipur, Freiburg (twice), Tuebingen (twice), Heidelberg, Berlin, Leipzig, Philipps-Universität Marburg, and British Columbia (Vancouver). He is Chief Indologist and Field Director of the Orissa Research Project (1970–5) of the German Research Council (DFG), and has been Principal of the Ganganatha Jha Research Institute, Allahabad, for over twenty years. He was Professor and Head of the Research and Publication wing of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Delhi, and is presently Director of the Bhogilal Leherchand Institute of Indology in New Delhi. He has published 22 books on subjects mostly pertaining to religions and literature of India. His specialisations are: Indian Religions and Philosophy, Vishnuism (especially Pancharatra school), Vedic studies, Sanskrit Literature, Grammar, and Philology, Cult practices of Orissa, and Gaudiya Vishnuism.

Hinduism 1: Sources and Development - Session six

Dr. Rembert Lutjeharms
18 Nov 2016

This lecture series provides some basic material for Theology FHS Paper 20, “Hinduism 1: Sources and Development.’ These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upaniṣads and Bhagavad-gītā, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions.This lecture series provides some basic material for Theology FHS Paper 20, “Hinduism 1: Sources and Development.’ These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upaniṣads and Bhagavad-gītā, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions.

Hinduism 1: Sources and Development - Session five

Dr. Rembert Lutjeharms
11 Nov 2016

This lecture series provides some basic material for Theology FHS Paper 20, “Hinduism 1: Sources and Development.’ These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upaniṣads and Bhagavad-gītā, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions.This lecture series provides some basic material for Theology FHS Paper 20, “Hinduism 1: Sources and Development.’ These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upaniṣads and Bhagavad-gītā, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions.

Subjunctive Explorations of Fictive Vaiṣṇav-Sufi Discourse

J.P. And Beena Khaitan Visiting Fellows lecture
Prof. Tony K. Stewart
10 Nov 2016

The early modern Bangla tales of the legendary or mythic pīrs are romantic narratives that speak to the often strange and puzzling encounters between Hindus, especially Vaiṣṇavs, and Muslims, primarily Sufis. They bring together foreigners and locals, courtiers and country bumpkins, in encounters ripe with a myriad of misunderstandings and false assumptions regarding religion, rituals, and those that practice them. They seek to establish the functional equivalence of religious practitioners, their rituals, and the contours of belief through the vehicle of the generic romance. One of the most popular figures is Baḍa Khān Gājī, who from atop his Arabian stallion commands an army of twenty-five thousand tigers, and wages a successful war against Dakṣīn Rāy, an overlord who rides his own personal tiger and counters with his militia of twenty-five thousand crocodiles (both troops mustered through the interventions of the goddess Caṇḍī). Mānik Pīr, who is famous as a veterinarian, especially for cows, is as irascible as any meditating yogī and demonstrates much the same kind of destructive and beneficent power in his encounters with those who fail to show a proper respect, especially greedy merchants and arrogant brahmins. Olābibī, matron of cholera and other water-borne diseases, teams up with Śitalā, goddess of smallpox, cowpox, and skin diseases such as warts, wens, and eczema. And most widely known, Satya Pīr, carrying both the Qur’ān and Bhāgavat Purāṇ, rescues his followers from penury, while helping women to set right the world after the idiotic actions of their men have confounded the proper order. All of these tales are rife with phantasmagoria equal to anything found in the Arabian Nights, with flying horses, celestial nymphs playing pranks, theriomorphic births, talking birds, and men transmogrified into goats to serve as breeding stock. As Todorov suggests, these fantastic romances produce a special kind of incredulity, a disbelief or suspension of belief that has resulted in their classification as light entertainment for the masses and dismissed as neither Hindu nor Muslim. But I wish to argue that these Muslim texts are undertaking a very serious cultural work that is not possible within the available genres of Islamic history, theology, and law. These texts explore the subjunctive, not in the sense of the way the world should be, but how it might be imagined, how it might come to be. The work of these texts is to explore how an Islamic cosmology might accommodate itself to and then appropriate the predominately Hindu cosmology encountered in the Bangla-speaking world of the early-modern period. Each narrative operates according to a logic of ‘what if . . .’ Perhaps surprisingly, I argue that parody is the critical mechanism by which Islam in these tales is gradually transformed into a distinctly Bengali Islam, that can account for its Hindu, especially Vaiṣṇav, counterpart. 

Prof. Tony K. Stewart specializes in the literatures and religions of the Bangla-speaking world, with a special emphasis on the early modern period. His most recent monograph, The Final Word: the Caitanya Caritāmṛta and the Grammar of Religious Tradition (Oxford, 2010), culminated a decades-long study of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava hagiographical tradition that included translating with Edward C. Dimock, Jr., The Caitanya Caritāmṛta of Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, Harvard Oriental Series no. 56 (Harvard, 1999). From the literatures of the Muslim–Hindu mythic figure, Satya Pīr, he published Fabulous Females and Peerless Pīrs: Tales of Mad Adventure in Old Bengal (Oxford, 2004) and is currently working on a monograph on the popular Bangla romance literatures of the pīrs. With prominent American poet Chase Twichell, he has published the first ever translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s pseudonymous Bhānusiṃha poetry titled The Lover of God (Copper Canyon, 2003). Stewart currently holds the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Humanities and serves as a Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. 

Śākteya Mudrās: Hand Gestures in Tantric Goddess Worship

Janaki Nair
7 Nov 2016

This seminar fundamentally attempts to understand and contour hand gestural or mudrā practice in tantric rituals. Rooted in older traditions, mudrās have always been an integral part of tantric rituals. Delineating on how śākteya tantric practitioners construct a symbolic world through their visualisation and use of mudrās, this talk will explore training methods of mudrās followed by śākteya practioners. Furthermore, the intertwined nature and presence of mudrās in Indian classical dance and Hindu Temple traditions will be discussed.

Janaki Nair is PhD student at Northumbria University, researching on Semiotics in Tantra and Indian dance. She is affiliated with the Śakta Traditions research project at the OCHS.

The monastic/ascetic tradition of India and its ramification towards the west

Shivdasani lecture
Prof. G. C. Tripathi
3 Nov 2016

The lecture would shed light on the Indian phenomenon of monasticism (shrama, shramana) and asceticism (tapas, tapasvin). Buddhist monks are referred to as shramanas, the toilers. The concept of shrama (labour) has a spiritual connotation in the Vedic literature. Monastic way of life, according to me, was not a protest or revolution against the established religious order. Its tradition seems to be as old that of Vedic ritual, although it was formalised and given a well structured form by Mahavira and especially by Buddha. However they were not the inventors of this tradition. Many Rishis and Aranyakas (Vaikhanasas!) lead a life very akin to that of a monk. Tapas etymologically means ‘heat’ and tapasya is ‘accumulation of heat’ where the expression ‘heat’ is understood in the sense of spiritual energy. Performance of austerities is believed to endow a person with extra-ordinary capabilities which could be of many use, besides , of course, spiritual enlightenment. Tapas is usually associated with the concept of a Rsi who can see beyond time and space. We shall deal with these concepts and trace the history of the spread of monasticism in the west from India in short.

Prof. Gaya Charan Tripathi was born at Agra (India). He went to school and pursued higher studies at Agra, Pune, and Benares. He has a Masters in Sanskrit (1959) from the University of Agra with a Gold Medal and first position in the University. He received his Ph.D. from the same University in 1962 on Vedic Deities and their subsequent development in the Epics and the Puranas supported by a Fellowship of the Ministry of Education. He is a Fellow of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for Higher Studies in Germany. He has a Dr.Phil. from the University of Freiburg/Br (1966) in History of Religions, Comparative Indo-European Philology, and Latin (besides Indology) as elective subjects in the grade Summa cum Laude. D.Litt. in Ancient Indian History and Culture from the University of Allahabad on ‘A critical Study of the daily Puja Ceremony of the Jagannatha Temple in Puri’ (published under the title Communication with God). He has taught at the Universities of Aligarh, Udaipur, Freiburg (twice), Tuebingen (twice), Heidelberg, Berlin, Leipzig, Philipps-Universität Marburg, and British Columbia (Vancouver). He is Chief Indologist and Field Director of the Orissa Research Project (1970–5) of the German Research Council (DFG), and has been Principal of the Ganganatha Jha Research Institute, Allahabad, for over twenty years. He was Professor and Head of the Research and Publication wing of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Delhi, and is presently Director of the Bhogilal Leherchand Institute of Indology in New Delhi. He has published 22 books on subjects mostly pertaining to religions and literature of India. His specialisations are: Indian Religions and Philosophy, Vishnuism (especially Pancharatra school), Vedic studies, Sanskrit Literature, Grammar, and Philology, Cult practices of Orissa, and Gaudiya Vishnuism.

Hinduism 1: Sources and Development - Session three

Dr. Rembert Lutjeharms
28 Oct 2016

This lecture series provides some basic material for Theology FHS Paper 20, “Hinduism 1: Sources and Development.’ These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upaniṣads and Bhagavad-gītā, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions.This lecture series provides some basic material for Theology FHS Paper 20, “Hinduism 1: Sources and Development.’ These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upaniṣads and Bhagavad-gītā, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions.

Myth-History Conundrums in the Hagiographies of Satya Pīr: Hindu God and Muslim Holy Man

J.P. And Beena Khaitan Visiting Fellows lecture
Prof. Tony K. Stewart
27 Oct 2016

Satya Pīr has been for scholars one of the most puzzling figures in Bengali religious history: for Muslims a Sufi saint and for Hindus none other than Satya Nārāyaṇ. The index to their truly puzzling nature is the fact that in spite of their ubiquity—his manuscript and print literature in Bangla is second in size only to the voluminous output prompted by Kṛṣṇa Caitanya—there have been virtually no serious attempts to understand the religious and cultural work of these stories. For the last two centuries these boundary-crossing tales have been uniformly dismissed as derivative rubbish from the perspective of those writing the heroic nationalist literary histories that were secular in ideal, but Hindu in orientation; as heretical by the conservative reforming factions of Faraizi and Salafi Islam; as syncretistic confusion by both foreign and local Orientalists; and demonstrative of a bastard language called dobhāṣī (Bangla combined with Persian and Urdu) by prominent Bengali linguists—all of which served to relegate the tales to the Victorian and Bengali bhadralok élitist (and more recently Marxist) curio cabinet of naïve folktales suitable only as entertainment for the masses. The effect is to hide these tales from the official record of Bengal’s literary production, even though centuries later they continue to enjoy wide popularity and the enjoined worship is still routinely performed. Apart from the obvious contemporary sectarian chauvinism, the underlying key to this almost panicked rejection by élites is the fact that Satya Pīr is of fictional character. He appears nowhere in the historical record of Persian chronicles or copperplate inscriptions and only officially as a mythic figure in the British gazetteers. As a first step in making these tales make sense, I propose that we approach them for what they are: fictional hagiographies. The methodological strategies used to interpret hagiography or religious biography can be applied equally to these narratives of Satya Pīr and Satya Nārāyaṇ, but because of their fictional or mythic nature, the tales unravel something of the intractable problems all hagiographies present to historians of religion. 

Prof. Tony K. Stewart specializes in the literatures and religions of the Bangla-speaking world, with a special emphasis on the early modern period. His most recent monograph, The Final Word: the Caitanya Caritāmṛta and the Grammar of Religious Tradition (Oxford, 2010), culminated a decades-long study of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava hagiographical tradition that included translating with Edward C. Dimock, Jr., The Caitanya Caritāmṛta of Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, Harvard Oriental Series no. 56 (Harvard, 1999). From the literatures of the Muslim–Hindu mythic figure, Satya Pīr, he published Fabulous Females and Peerless Pīrs: Tales of Mad Adventure in Old Bengal (Oxford, 2004) and is currently working on a monograph on the popular Bangla romance literatures of the pīrs. With prominent American poet Chase Twichell, he has published the first ever translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s pseudonymous Bhānusiṃha poetry titled The Lover of God (Copper Canyon, 2003). Stewart currently holds the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Humanities and serves as a Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. 

Hinduism 1: Sources and Development - Session one

Dr. Rembert Lutjeharms
14 Oct 2016

This lecture series provides some basic material for Theology FHS Paper 20, “Hinduism 1: Sources and Development.’ These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upaniṣads and Bhagavad-gītā, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions.This lecture series provides some basic material for Theology FHS Paper 20, “Hinduism 1: Sources and Development.’ These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upaniṣads and Bhagavad-gītā, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions.

Nath Siddhas and Hatha Yoga Practices in South India

Shivadasani Seminar
Dr Prabhavati Reddy
9 Jun 2016

By the fifteenth century, the Nath lineage of Siddhas had emerged as influential teachers and wonder-working yogis in the Telugu-speaking region of Srisailam in South India. Both textual and archaeological evidence suggest that Nath gurus have gained popularity among royal families and common people as well as the establishment of regional Nath parampara traditions, combined with Saiva, Tantra and Hatha Yoga practices in the environs of Srisailam. In this seminar, we will discuss the mid-fifteenth century Telugu work, the Navanathacaritra of Gaurana, which is a primary source dedicated entirely to the history of nine Nath teachers, in particular the fifteenth century Prakara’s art narratives depicting the Naths and a variety of Siddha portraits in hatha yoga postures. The Navanāthacaritra is the first work to give a list of nine Naths corresponding to those found in later Nath works and it also contains important information on the localization of Nath yogis, the Saiva-Nath affiliation, and Tantric and hatha yoga techniques. This seminar explores the five facets of Nath religious culture, including: 1) the historical account of nine Nath Siddhas based on the Navanatha Caritra and the art narratives of Minanatha (Matsyendra), Gopala (Goraksa) and Sarangadhara (Caurangi); 2) the kundalini-based yoga techniques and hatha yoga practices by Nath gurus; 3) the Yogini-Kaula cult of Matsyendranath; 4) a variety of Siddha portraiture and hatha yoga asanas; and 5) the placement of Srisailam’s Nath religious culture within the broader context of the Nath tradition. 

Dr Prabhavati C. Reddy is an Adjunct Faculty member of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University, an M.A. in Asian Art History from the University of Texas-Austin, and an M.A and M.Phil. in Ancient History and Archaeology from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. She has previously taught at George Washington University and was a two-year Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern University where she taught in the Department of Religious Studies. She specializes in Hindu traditions and is interested in the historical development of sectarian traditions with reference to constructive theological frameworks and syncretism, religious authority and identity, and conflict and resolution in response to sociological and political processes. She is the author of Hindu Pilgrimage: Shifting Patterns of Worldview of Srisailam in South India (Routledge, 2014) and has published several articles on Indian art and Indian diaspora/Hindu temples in North America. She is currently working on two books entitled, The Tantra and Siddha Traditions at Srisailam: Kundalini and Hatha Yoga Practices in Medieval India and Vaisnava Rituals and Sacred Images. She has lectured at universities in both the U.S and India as well as has presented papers at professional conferences. 

The Vaisnava Appropriation of Vedic Fires in the Vaikhanasa Tradition: A New Ritual System for Image Worship

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr Prabhavati Reddy
26 May 2016

The Vaikhanasas are a small South Indian community of Vaisnava Brahmins who have traditionally engaged in conducting temple worship by following their distinctive ritual system. The name Vaikhanasa derives from Sage Vikhanas, who is attributed with the authorship of the Vaikhanasa Sutras and with the founding of the Vaikhanasa School. The Vaikhanasa regards itself as part of the Vaisnava tradition orthodoxy because of its close adherence to Vedic religion and its presence within the Taittiriya School of the Black Yajurveda. The Vaikhanasa ritual literature on domestic and temple worship both in text and practice reflect this tradition’s strong influences from the Srauta sacrificial cult and its fire rituals. This lecture will explore the ways in which the concept of Vedic fires is appropriated in the typical Vaisnava way by formulating a new ritual system for image worship (samurtarcana) in a temple setting within the Vaikhanasa School. We will examine the concepts of Triple Fires (tretagni) and Five Fires (pancagni) within the context of triple images (bimbatrayi) and fivefold images (pancabera). Also considered are the ways in which the Vedic ideas of fire sacrifice are rearticulated with new meanings and interpretations for the theistic, temple-based religion of Visnu as Venkatesvara. 

Dr Prabhavati C. Reddy is an Adjunct Faculty member of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University, an M.A. in Asian Art History from the University of Texas-Austin, and an M.A and M.Phil. in Ancient History and Archaeology from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. She has previously taught at George Washington University and was a two-year Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern University where she taught in the Department of Religious Studies. She specializes in Hindu traditions and is interested in the historical development of sectarian traditions with reference to constructive theological frameworks and syncretism, religious authority and identity, and conflict and resolution in response to sociological and political processes. She is the author of Hindu Pilgrimage: Shifting Patterns of Worldview of Srisailam in South India (Routledge, 2014) and has published several articles on Indian art and Indian diaspora/Hindu temples in North America. She is currently working on two books entitled, The Tantra and Siddha Traditions at Srisailam: Kundalini and Hatha Yoga Practices in Medieval India and Vaisnava Rituals and Sacred Images. She has lectured at universities in both the U.S and India as well as has presented papers at professional conferences. 

Transformation: Emerson, Gadamer, Sloterdijk

Human Transcendence Series
Dr Jessica Frazier, William Konchak, Lucian Wong,
20 May 2016

Many twentieth century thinkers have balanced on the fine line between secular atheism, and philosophies that affirm the intrinsic value and vital forces of human life. Indeed, thinkers associated with vitalism, pantheism, and humanism have often argued that humanity has within it the resource for self-transformation, development and creative Becoming. In this symposium we explore the ways in which Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Peter Sloterdijk have built a 'vertical' drive into their visions of human life.

Matter and Religion Seminar

Dr Donovan Schaeffer, Dr Jessica Frazier, Dr Jonathan Duquette
19 May 2016

Matter is one of most familiar yet obscure concepts in the modern western account of the world: it is widely taken to explain the very nature of existence, and it has become a pillar of the secular-scientific worldview. Nevertheless the history of 'matter' reveals a complicated genealogy of classical concepts concerning atoms, energy, and substance, combined with theological debates about the mysterious status of the reality that surrounds us. Through three short papers and an open discussion, this seminar will explore the concepts and controversies that surround the notion of matter. Spanning western and Indian cultures, and touching on the disenchantment of the world, the disjunction of secular and sacred reality, we will seek to reconsider the pivotal position of materiality in our understanding of the world.

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