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An Ongoing Conversation


Kumkum Roy

SOUTH ASIAN TEXTS IN HISTORY: CRITICAL ENGAGEMENTS WITH SHELDON POLLOCK
By Yigal Bronner Edited by Yigal Bronner, Whitney Cox, Lawrence McCrea Primus Books, New Delhi
Year 2016, pp. xx 403, Rs.1750.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 10 October 2016

Originally published in 2011, and now available in an excellent Indian edition, this set of essays in honour of and in dialogue with the ideas and writings of one of the most challenging and demanding scholars of our times is exciting, at times difficult and even arcane, and almost invariably thought provoking. Organized around five themes that have been central to Sheldon Pollock’s prolific and profound scholarship, the essays range from the densely and often dauntingly specific to more broad and general explorations, offering something for almost any scholar interested in the relationship between the past and the present, between literary cultures and the worlds in which they circulate as well as the worlds they construct, between linguistic, scholarly and literary traditions and realms of power. Almost inevitably, complex analyses of Sanskritic traditions loom large in this anthology, providing a welcome respite from the sharply polarized and somewhat futile ways in which the language has come to figure in present-day ‘popular’ urban, middle-class, upper caste perceptions in India. As important, other linguistic and literary traditions figure as well—notably Tamil, Hindi and Persian. The foreword by Nicholas Dirks summarizes the major strands of Pollock’s scholarship and its implications with remarkable clarity and brevity, setting the tone for the scholarly engagements that follow. In their introduction, the editors trace out the ways in which each set of essays, and each essay within them exemplify an engagement with Pollock’s work. What is perhaps most stimulating is the sense of an ongoing conversation, where questions remain to be addressed, and fresh questions are both posed, anticipated, and likely to emerge. It is a field where consensus and conformity are unlikely, and where we can expect and benefit from challenges and contestations. Given Pollock’s engagement with the Ramayana, both as a translator and as a scholar who has provided remarkable insights into its socio-cultural, religious, political and aesthetic dimensions, the first set of essays focuses on the Ramayana and its readers. The very first essay, by Ajay K. Rao, interrogates the connection between the Rama cult and the presence of Islam in the subcontinent, suggested by Pollock in 1993. Rao focuses on a specific instance, the kingdom of Vijayanagara, to argue that the emergence of the Rama cult in this milieu is best understood as a Srivaisnava response in the context of a competing tradition of Saivism in the region. This insistence ...


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