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Vernacular Commentary and the Bhagavad Gītā: Questions of Transition and Circulation


· Akshara Ravishankar University of Chicago (Chicago, United States of America)


07/26 | 15:30-15:50 UTC+2/CEST


Scholarship on modern receptions of the Bhagavad Gītā in South Asia has tended to focus on its life in 19th and 20th century nationalisms and European representations. In this paper, I explore the early modern life of the Bhagavad Gītā as it was received through commentarial traditions, specifically in Hindi. I look at an 18th-century translation and commentary of the Gita called the ‘Paramānanda Prabodha’ attributed to a little-known author named Ānandarāma. The text is a transcreation of a 14th-century Sanskrit commentary by Śrīdhara Svāmin, contains both prose and verse forms, and draws upon prior traditions of interpretation while making choices that enable it to speak to what were likely to have been non-specialist audiences. While examining this text in the context of patterns of transmission and circulation in its own time, I use this analysis to raise broader questions about how these processes of transmission and translation work. Renditions of the Gītā in the vernacular additionally reveal shifting audiences and modes of circulation, as well as developments in the functions of genres like the commentary and their role in mediating the received significance of, and constructions of meaning in, canonical texts like the Gītā. Through this paper, I suggest that attention to early vernacular renditions of the Gītā may allow us to ask further questions relevant to later histories of reception. Were there modes of reading or circulation, rooted in the local and the vernacular, that persisted? Can such a focus provide tools to track either continuities or discontinuities into the modern period?