How japa changed between the Vedas and the bhakti traditions: the evidence of the Jāpakopākhyāna (Mbh 12.189–93)

Location: Lecture Room 1, Oriental Institute
Speaker: Professor John Brockington
Date: October 24, 2011
Time: 5:00pm to 7:00pm

The term japa is one that has a long history within the family of Hindu traditions but the difference between the murmuring of Vedic mantras as an accompaniment to sacrificial rituals and the meditative repetition of a divine name in bhakti traditions is considerable. In an attempt to find some evidence for the development process involved, I shall examine theJāpakopākhyāna (MBh 12.189–93), a text which seems in some ways incongruous in its context, and will also survey the occurrence of japa and its cognates throughout theMahābhārata. I seek to unravel the textual history of the passage and the logic of combining its parts, as well as the message that it conveys. The prominence of Brahmā in the passage may form one key to its interpretation, while the fact that the next highest (though much lower) frequency of japa and related terms is in the Nārāyaṇīya seems to offer another clue, especially in conjunction with the significance of japa in the developed Pāñcarātra system.

Professor Brockington is emeritus Professor of Sanskrit in the School of Asian Studies (of which he was the first Head) and an Honorary Fellow in the Centre for South Asian Studies. He has written several books and around 75 articles on his special area of research, the Sanskrit epics, as well as on other topics.   He is the Secretary General of the International Association of Sanskrit Studies and was the chair of the organising committee of the 13th World Sanskrit Conference, held at Edinburgh in July 2006. Among his many publications areThe Sacred Thread: Hinduism in its continuity and diversity, (1981); Righteous Rama: the Evolution of an Epic; Hinduism and Christianity; Epic and Puranic Bibliography (up to 1985) (1992); The Sanskrit Epics (Handbuch der Orientalistik, 2.2.12; A Descriptive Catalogue of the Sanskrit and other Indian Manuscripts of the Chandra Shum Shere Collection in the Bodleian Library, Part II, Epics and PuranasEpic Threads: John Brockington on the Sanskrit Epics, ed. Greg Bailey and Mary Brockington (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2000); Indian Epic Traditions – Past and Present (Papers presented at the 16th European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies, Edinburgh, 5–9 September 2000) ed. by Danuta Stasik and John Brockington (2002); The Intimate Other: Love Divine in Indic Religions, ed. by Anna S. King and John Brockington (2005); and Rama the Steadfast: An Early Form of the Ramayana,tr. by John Brockington and Mary Brockington (2006).