Akshara Ravishankar Parmeswaram, PhD Candidate in South Asian Languages and Civilizations, The University of Chicago
Much scholarship on the Gītā’s premodern life has tended to focus on its early textual past, and its extraordinary role as a philosophical and scholastic text. The Gītā went on to become a significant site of interpretation for adherents of the various Vedānta schools, and a text through which scholars could argue for radically differing interpretations. Hermeneutic traditions around the Gītā continued to emerge in both Sanskrit and vernacular languages, with scholars writing commentaries and sub-commentaries on the text, often defending the interpretations of their chosen sectarian and philosophical lineages, while adding newer layers based on their own commitments. In 16th-century Gwalior, a writer named Theghnāth wrote a vernacular Bhagavad Gītā in verse for the personal edification of a prince in the Tomar court, drawing from these prior traditions of reading the Gītā as well as from emerging genres of vernacular epic narratives in the region. In this presentation, I examine how Theghnāth frames his composition and situates it within different modes of literary production – as translation, as commentary, or as narrative poetry. Through a close reading of Theghnāth’s introduction and his protocols of adaptation, I focus on this question of genre to ask how vernacular Gītās like this one can help us understand the multiple spaces the Gītā may have occupied in premodern South Asia, and the functions it may have served for early modern audiences in particular.
Zoom link forthcoming