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Feels Like a Vernacular: The Construction of a Vernacular Literary Identity in the Līlātilakam


· Sivan Goren Arzony Harvard Univeristy (Cambridge MA, United States of America)


07/27 | 16:10-16:30 UTC+2/CEST


Vernacular grammars and books on poetics from South Asia are commonly constructed on the premises of Sanskrit grammar and poetics. This can be depicted in the organization of book chapters and sub-chapters; in the selection of categories and paradigms; and in the deployment of a Sanskrit vocabulary and Sanskrit modes of analysis. Reading such books, one can sometimes get the impression that these are Sanskrit books that only use the vernacular as a case-study. Such is the case with the Līlātilakam, Kerala’s first (and almost only) premodern vernacular grammar and book on poetics. The Līlātilakam is written in Sanskrit, cites Sanskrit authors as authoritative precedents, and offers long lists of Sanskrit poetic faults, virtues, and ornaments, illustrated by verses in an elevated register of the local vernacular, termed Maṇipravāḷam. Yet, reading closely, one can trace multiple occurrences where Sanskrit grammatical rules, poetic conventions, and norms are transgressed, in favor of a local flavor of poetry. In my talk, I will explore three such cases, dealing with syntax, bi-textuality, and theme. Tracing Sanskrit’s accommodation and restriction, I will demonstrate how vernacular literature gets theorized for the first time in a text that is aware of its novelty.