Representing the Other? Sanskrit Sources and theMuslims (Eighth to Fourteenth Century).
Manohar, Delhi, 1998.
Entry by Jesse Knutson
This short monograph is a rich and detailed study of terminologies, modes, and strategies in Sanskrit literary and epigraphic sources for referring to the various Muslim newcomers, invaders, and rulers (Arab, Persian, Turkish, etc.) between the eighth and fourteenth century in South Asia.
Political realities varied a great deal, and representation was something subject to its own independence and historical variation--this overwhelming multiplicity is what historical reconstruction has to contend with, at the end of the day. Complexity of interaction in the pages of this book coincides with the possibility for radical commensurability of diverse systems, when donation, alliance, or other conditions lent favorability. Thus the Sultan of Delhi could be referred to by such stock titles of Hindu rule as mahåråjådhiråja “Overlord of Great Kings”, and paramabhattåraka “Supreme Master”; likewise the title “Sultan Among Hindu Kings” hinduråyasuratråna, could be used by Krsnaråya of Vijayanagara in 1430 (54).
One of the author’s aims is to demolish the myth of a unified Muslim other: “while for the Orientalists, the Indian culture, as a segment of the Oriental, may represent the other, the prerogative at the same time, of defining the other within this otherness ofIndia was appropriated by the Orientalists.” (14). The author reflects that we, as students of the South Asian past, must recognize the relation of otherness in which we stand to the two [or three] categories of other, and that it is our responsibility to avoid reading the present-day, communal caricature on to the past, making it the defenseless victim of thepresent. Examination of the various archives tells a complete story, neither of “irreconcilable hostility” nor of “religious toleration and synthesis”, but a bit of both, and much more when comparison is instituted both synchronically and diachronically (80). The author’s main imperative is that empirical research should never make one representation into an absolute.
Keith, Arthur Berriedale.
A History of Sanskrit Literature.
Motilal Banarsidas,Delhi, 1993. [first published 1928]
Entry by Jesse Knutson
This tome is one of the founding works of western scholarship on Sanskrit kavya “poetry”. Its author, A.B. Keith (1879-1944) had it seems, an encyclopedic knowledge of Sanskrit literature of all kinds, and the book is teeming with extensive quotations from the Sanskrit classics.
The book begins with a consideration of the history and social basis of the various literary languages of premodern South Asia, and a brief hint at the emergence of vernacularism. He charts the phenomenon of kavya, from its raw materials in the Epics and Purånas, through its earliest example per se, in Asvaghosa, its crystallization in such figures from the ancient period as Kålidåsa, Bhåravi, and Mågha, on through the medieval period. We often find Keith concerned to work out inferentially what kind of world the writer under consideration may have lived in for his work to have been able to make sense, such as in his consideration of “Kålidåsa’s Thought” where he suggests that poetry can meditate so deeply on order, only when there is some prevailing experience of order in the world to which it can correspond (98-100).
The work does not extend much further than about A.D. 1200 and concludes its treatment of poetry with a short treatment of the history of poetics. This not before a section on “The Aims and Achievement of Sanskrit Poetry”, where he takes up the comparison with Greek and Roman antiquity somewhat more systematically and favorably than elsewhere: “It is natural to compare Sanskrit writers with the Greeks of the Alexandrian age or the post-Augustan Latin poets, and there is no doubt some justice in the parallels drawn between the literatures. They are essentially the outcome of study and of the deliberate and conscious use of older models.” (347). The section begins with the sentence: “It is easy to see the defects in Sanskrit poetry and still easier to exaggerate them” (344). This statement applies very well reflexively to his own persistence in observing an insidious degeneracy to rule the tradition, even if the poetry can succeed on its own terms, or succeed to a large extent in terms of what he himself takes poetry to be.