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Love, Life and Spiritual Visions


Vijaya Ramaswamy

VIJAYANAGARA VISIONS: RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE AND CULTURAL CREATIVITY IN A SOUTH INDIAN EMPIRE
By William J. Jackson
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. x 381, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 12 December 2007

I would like to begin this review in Jackson’s own words: ‘It is true that the border crosser who writes about another culture is part beggar, part stenographer, part Sherlock Holmes, part patchwork quilt maker’ (p. 309).   Sure, William Jackson may have been all these when he went around the ruins of Hampi and meditated on ‘Vijayanagara Visions’. However, for me this book has marked a milestone in my intellectual journey by enabling me to move from dichotomous notions of ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘etic’ and ‘emic’ representations of societies, cultures and peoples. The fractal spiral and the ‘wholeness in cascading inter-relatedness’ (p. 41) which bhakti cultures share across centuries, a notion that runs like a thread throughout this longish narrative of Jackson’s, firmly and truly connects him to this fractal harmony. Well learnt academic and theoretical perspectives carefully nurtured in dry libraries or scholarly academic gatherings, get shattered and re-form in refreshingly new ways when one comes across a book like this. The ‘hubris’ that many book reviewers (read academicians) are characterized by is stripped off to reveal an unsure, self-questioning individual, opening up to a ‘new stream of consciousness’. This is my spontaneous and honest response to Jackson’s book.   Yes. This book is brilliant but not merely that. It goes beyond intellectual aerobics to seek and understand the metaphysical foundations of the compositions of South India’s singer saints. In the process, the author, the subjects and the reader become a part of the same vision/visions. Let me first point out what this book is not. This book is not about the history of Vijayanagar. It is not about its imperial grandeur, military might or economic prosperity. To that extent scholars might find the title exasperatingly misleading. This may not add to the formidable corpus of information on the ‘Forgotten Empire’ of Robert Sewell, which has today become the lucrative site of so much research, so many learned books and dissertations and of course, international (especially American) funding.   Jackson’s book is about experiential vision involving intuition, imagination, reflection–essentially the realm of the reflective and the unconscious. The author steers clear of the path of calculative thinking involving deductive logic, rational enquiry and the triumph of the alert and ever conscious mind. Martin Heidegger had distinguished the two paths as ‘reflective thinking’ and ‘calculative thinking’. As Jackson puts it, ‘The rational mind joins, stitches, connects consequences ...


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