What does it mean to be a playful agent? The Kashmiri Śaiva reformulation of Naṭarāja (TT17)

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Dr Aleksandra Wenta
Date: June 5, 2017
Time: 2.00-3.00

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.