Catching the eye... and capturing the imagination

Three important new titles from Permanent Black- but with wonderfully colourful covers- are out now (or soon will be).

History, Bhakti, and Public Memory by Christian Novetzke is on Namdev, a central figure in the cultural history of India, especially within the field of bhakti. .... He is central to many religious traditions within Hinduism, as well as to Sikhism, and he is a key early literary figure in Maharashtra, northern India, and Punjab. ... Novetzke considers the way social memory coheres around the figure of Namdev from the sixteenth century to the present, examining the practices that situate Namdev's memory in multiple historical publics. Focusing primarily on Maharashtra and drawing on ethnographies of devotional performance, archival materials, scholarly historiography, and popular media, especially film, Novetzke vividly illustrates how religious communities in India preserve their pasts and, in turn, create their own historical narratives."

Sumit Guha calls this an "erudite study [that] is an important contribution to several important issues in contemporary social theory, especially the relations of memory, history, and community through the past thousand years of the vernacular millennium. Deeply grounded in manuscript sources, it never loses sight of the living context of performance where the texts originated."

Speaking of memory, I dare say there are few in India who have not heard of Padmini, the brave Rajput queen of Chittor, who died rather than let herself be captured by Allauddin Khilji. A new study by Ramya Sreenivasan THE MANY LIVES OF A RAJPUT QUEEN Heroic Pasts in India, c.1500-1900 deals with this tragic story, using extensive archival work and researching indigenous narratives to "track how nationalists -- both religious and secular -- have appropriated the same theme. Sreenivasan is never reductionist. She consistently locates and situates the texts she analyses in the conjunctures in and for which they were produced, whether by North Indian Sufis, Arakanese kings, Jain businessmen and literati, Rajput lords or Bengali bhadralok. She thereby undercuts the recent heroic narratives of the colonial and post-colonial era that have taken the Padmini story out of context in order to sustain the credibility of Hindu fundamentalism and the discourse of Islamic separatism."

Reviewing the book in the Journal of Asian Studies, Ann Gold says "Ramya Sreenivasan’s study of the multiple narrative traditions surrounding Rajasthan’s legendary fourteenth-century queen Padmini is a masterful and admirable scholarly achievement. ... Sreenivasan’s singular accomplishment in this meticulously researched account is to demonstrate more convincingly and thoroughly than I have ever seen done before the wonderfully complex entanglements of literature and politics, of history and legend. She adroitly tracks the ways in which apparently infinite narrative permutations may both reflect and influence real events. Padmini herself probably never existed, as we learn in passing early on, but that is of little significance. The queen’s story in its “many lives”—as religious allegory, royal selfaggrandizement, colonial confabulation, nationalist inspiration, patriarchal parable—is likely more compelling than any actual historical personage’s ever could be."

The third book is THE MODERNITY OF SANSKRIT by Simona Sawhney which refutes the commonly held belief that "Sanskrit and its canonical texts validate the Hindutva worldview". This book shows "how writers such as Tagore and Gandhi deployed the Indian literary and religious canon to argue broadly liberal positions, and how it is both possible and necessary to view the possibilities of political plenitude within texts misappropriated by the Hindu Right."

Vasudha Dalmia calls this “a passionate plea, made with erudition and conviction, for taking new stock of the modern engagement with Sanskrit, not only in Hindi lyric, drama, and essay, but also in the new political readings of texts as safely ‘classical’ as the Bhagavadgita.”

The books also reflect the plusses and minuses of globalization: all titles are co-published with different University presses in the US, in this case Columbia, Washington and Minnesota, and its very welcome that such excellent titles are available in Indian editions. But why does no University in India have a comparable publication programme??

In different sections on the Scholars site.

History, Bhakti, and Public Memory, Hardcover, 336pages, Rs 695 EAN 9788178242590

THE MANY LIVES OF A RAJPUT QUEEN, Hardcover, 286pages, Rs 650, EAN 9788178241852

THE MODERNITY OF SANSKRIT, Hardcover, 226pp, Rs 495, EAN 9788178242538