Text Migration: Translation and Modern Reception of the Bhāgavata Purāna in Bengal and Beyond

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Dr Ferdinando Sardella
Date: November 25, 2010
Time: 16:00 to 17:00

This event marks the launching of a newly started project at the OCHS called “Bengali Vaishnavism in the Modern Period”, which undertakes the mapping, collection, translation and investigation of literature and other relevant material related to or dealing with the modern development of Caitanya Vaisnavism in Bengal from the late 18th century to the present. The presentation addresses in particular the migration of the Bhagavata Purana  – one of the core theological text of Vaishnavism/Hinduism in India – as a sacred text to the West during the 19th and 20th century. It is divided into three sections: the first presents the historical context for the reception of the Bhagavata in 19th century Bengal—at the time the most prominent intellectual centre of the British Empire in South Asia—among the Bengali middle classe and some of the controversies that surrounded its popular usage as a sacred text. The second discusses the text as part of a process of religious and cultural negotiation between India and the West, with particular reference to Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati (1874-1937) – the founder in Calcutta of a modern religious institution called the Gaudiya Math – and his successors. The third section will trace the gradual transformation of the Bhagavata from a sacred text read by the literate among the Hindus to an instrument for diffusion of religious ideas and practice during the period following World War II. The presentation ends with a brief discussion of the function of the text within its indigenous religious tradition, and the ways in which this function has transformed through the dynamic social and cultural interactions between India and the West.