Uddanda as One and Many: Meditation, Ecstasy, and Time in Vaishnava Aesthetic Experience (TT19)

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Prof. Sukanya Sarbadhikary
Date: May 16, 2019
Time: 2.00pm – 3.00pm

Simultaneity has been a critical analytical issue in studies of Bengal-Vaishnavism and the theology of achintya-bhed-abhed (concurrent sameness-and-difference between devotee and god), but its exact phenomenology has not been duly developed. In this paper, I offer a meditative analysis of the term, uddanda, and also chitram and shavalya, to analyse whether Vaishnava emotional and aesthetic experience is one or many or both simultaneously. I develop the philosophy of simultaneity through the phenomenology of Vaishnava ecstatic dance, in particular. I primarily focus on a significant episode described in the Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya Lila, Chapter 13, of Chaitanya’s ecstatic dance (uddanda nrtya) with his followers in Puri (1512), before the deity Jagannath, on Rathyatra day. I use the term danda and specific connotations of it, to argue that they tell us of complex ideas of simultaneity: the dancing body as both meditative and mad, divine and human, and of times contemporary and others.  While the ecstatic dimension of uddanda nrtya has been highlighted in the said passage itself and in several commentaries, I am adding the issues of meditation and time in uddanda, for the first time. The linguistic and phenomenological universe of uddanda, as the creative interplay of meanings worlds including pole/stick, discipline, yogic concentration or mental stillness, momentum, emotional medley, excess, and time, produces tensions in the dancing body which are productive, essential, and impossible to overcome. The uddanda state has become exemplary in the world of bhakti mysticism, and been passed down through devotional texts and practices. So the paper also theorises the critical orthodox Vaishnava practice of manjari sadhana as an uddanda state, where the phenomenology of imagination produces simultaneities of times, selves, discipline, and affects. Finally, I reflect on exemplary incidents from lives of ecstatic saints, and ways in which they contribute to the discourse of uddanda.

Sukanya Sarbadhikary works at the interface of the anthropology of religion, religious studies, and philosophy. In her first work she did an intensive ethnography among different kinds of Bengal-Vaishnavas, focusing on diverse experiences of religious place and sensory affective discourses. Her book, The Place of Devotion: Siting and Experiencing Divinity in Bengal-Vaishnavism’ (University of California Press) was published in 2015. She is also passionately interested in the sociology and philosophy of aesthetics and music, and their relations with sacred embodiment. She is currently working on a range of devotional instruments and traditions of sonic metaphysics.