Hermeneutics of Exclusion: Ritual Branding and Scholastic Practice in Sixteenth Century Vedānta
Panel:22 | Marks of Devotion: The Construction and Politics of Religious Identity Through External Signs
Timeslot:07/28 | 15:50-16:10 UTC+2/CEST
Ritual branding of sectarian insignia on the body of an initiate or devotee (taptamudrā) is a Pāñcarātra practice that became important for Śrīvaiṣṇava and Mādhva Vaiṣṇava communities. Although the practice likely attracted criticism from an early period, it became a point of considerable controversy in the sixteenth century, when rivals from Smārta brahmanical communities attacked the practice with considerable force. This paper analyzes a body of anti-branding literature from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with an eye to understanding its prominent textual contours and what they may add to our understanding of early-modern Vedānta. The three main works I analyze are Bhāskara Dīkṣita’s “Taptamudrāvidrāvaṇam,“Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita’s “Tattvakaustubha,” and the same author’s “Tantrādhikārinirṇaya.” By situating these texts in a broader literature that includes Veṅkaṭanātha’s “Saccaritrarakṣā” and Vijayīndra Tīrtha’s “Cakramīmāṃsā,” this paper shows how issues of scriptural hermeneutics and bodily practice were leveraged by critics in order to articulate ideals of ritual and scholastic eligibility.