The University Seminar on South Asia seeks to broaden and deepen understanding about the region of South Asia by providing a forum to discuss ongoing research as well as special topics related to the complex and multiple societies of South Asia both past and present. Drawing together scholars from many different disciplines, the seminar fosters cross-disciplinary discussion and perspectives on a broad range of questions and concerns. In recent years, the seminar has deliberated on such issues as: religion and politics, the political function of violence in South Asia, national integration, language and community, South Asian identities in pre-colonial times, religious iconography, and many other topics. The University Seminar on South Asia is a merger of the University Seminar on Tradition and Change in South and Southeast Asia (founded in 1964) and the University Seminar on Indology (founded in 1993).
Prof. Paik’s talk focuses on her second book, Performing Precarity: Caste domination, normative sexuality, and the politics of Tamasha in Modern India, which is the first social and intellectual history of tamasha (popular secular theatre) -- the traditional art form of Dalits. Performing Precarity is an account of how certain Dalits negotiated the violence, brutality, and exploitation in tamasha as they struggled to transform themselves from ashlil (vulgar) to asli (authentic) human beings in twentieth century Maharashtra. She argues that ashlil and sexuality, enacted through tamasha, remained central to the social upheaval of the modern period and entrenched differentiations of caste and distinctions of high over low that were fundamental in shaping regional/national identity. Drawing on hitherto unexamined and under-examined vernacular Marathi archival materials, ethnographies, popular writings, and films, she illuminates how India’s social and sexual arrangements of the ashlil and the claims and counterclaims of Marathi elites and subaltern Dalits, reveal both the possibilities and limits of attempts to contest the boundaries of caste, gender, and sexuality. Most significantly, she departs from the Ambedkar-centered historiography and movement-focused approaches to analyze the ordinary and everyday in Dalit lives and to illustrate how sexuality and ashlil emerged as a crucial modern conjuncture to frame the political recognition of the new asli Dalit political, humanity, and community in moments of historical flux. In so doing, she recreates the fugitive world of young urban Dalits who transformed the social and political landscape of twentieth century Maharashtra.
Online Meeting 6:00 PM
Migration and Belonging in a Himalayan Hill Station
Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger, Emory University Abstract
Mussoorie is often characterized as a “British hill station” and many narratives and heritage events focus on its early British residents and their physical domiciles. This project aims to bring the families of Indian shopkeepers who work and live in Landour Bazaar into the historical-cultural narratives of the hill station. Their ancestors from across the north Indian plains mountain interiors came to support the British cantonment and, later, educational institutions; others were refugees from Partition; families continue to immigrate to Mussoorie for employment and educational opportunities; brides continue marry into the community; many of the younger generation are moving off the hill to metropolitan centers in a kind of reverse migration.
The larger project asks: 1) how did shopkeepers’ families come to live in Landour (oral histories and mapping of migration); and 2) how have these families come to make it home--or is it home and for whom? Hindi-Urdu terms such as mul nivas, watan, gaon, ghar, maika, and sasural imagine and recognize home(s) as multiple, fluid, gendered, and intersecting categories. Home is, in part, identified by ancestry, residence, deities, ritual, landscapes, and familial and community relationships. This multiplicity and fluidity is, however, being lost in some contexts of contemporary India, a development that has implications for our writing and representation.
Online Meeting 6:00 PM
The Kaveri as Goddess, Ornament & Resource: Imaginations of the River in Early Modern Purāṇic Literature from the Delta Region
The Kaveri has long been venerated as the center of the Tamil Śaiva sacred landscape, with most of the sites eulogized in the medieval devotional poetry of that tradition located in the delta region of central Tamil Nadu. Celebrated in the past as a Goddess herself, this once perennial river is now subject to seasonal drying owing to a variety of factors, and has been the subject of an often violent dispute between the state governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for the last several decades. This paper begins by trying to understand this absence through the lens of religion; how can we understand the consequences of this loss for those who venerate the river as sacred and for those who depend on it for their livelihood? To begin to answer this question, I survey a variety of early modern Sanskrit and Tamil sthalapurāṇas and māhātmyas devoted to sites in the Kaveri river delta in order to understand how the river was imagined in four ways: as a Goddess, as the means and the object of ritual, as an ornament beautifying a sacred landscape, and as a natural resource that sustains the livelihoods of those who live in its vicinity. In doing so, I aim to historicize the shifting significance of the river in the Anthropocene.
Online Meeting 6:00 PM
Wonder in a Nutshell: Persian Natural Histories in South Asia
The phrase wonders and rarities, ʿajāʾib-o gharāʾib, evokes a classical repertoire, drawn from a distinctive Islamic vocabulary for fathoming nature. Immediately legible in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu, the expression intersects with a broad discursive formation that spans time and space. By attending to the strange and uncanny, compendiums of natural history offer one of the most significant indices for studying an array of emotions and sensibilities associated with wonder, difference, and natural order. South Asia is home to a rich and long-lasting tradition of Arabic, Persian, and Urdu writings on natural wonders. Far from a static tableau of unchanging marvels, the register of wonder and rarity became a primary mode for conceptualizing major transformations in history, geography, and cosmography. This talk will address the diverse means by which natural histories were translated, adapted, and transformed into repositories of Indian history and learning.
Online Meeting 6:00 PM
Family Ties: A Jain Philosophy of Emotion and the Production of Karmic Families
Sarah Pierce Taylor, American Academy of Religion Abstract
Working with medieval Jain literature in Sanskrit and in Kannada, this paper traces the ways that a Jain concept of material emotion binds souls together in affective relationships that extend in and through transmigration. Although the gendered, familial, and social specificity of these relationships is transformed in each succeeding iteration, the stable bond of material emotion endures. I argue that this Jain philosophy of emotion produces a “karmic family,” a collection of souls who are materially bounded by emotion, and relationally, but not necessarily biologically, connected to a larger group of souls. If we look at Jain literature from this perspective, we see that the karmic family structures this literary corpus with broader import into how we conceive of other genres of Sanskrit and vernacular literatures.
Online Meeting 6:00 PM
Poems for a warlord: a study of 18th-century Brajbhasha texts from Bundelkhand
In 1792 the army of Anupgiri Gosain (a.k.a. “Himmat Bahadur”) defeated the Rajput forces of Arjun Singh at the fortress of Ajaygarh in eastern Bundelkhand. In retrospect this may be regarded as a key turning point in the history of Bundelkhand: Anupgiri’s victory there would eventually result in the British annexation of the province in 1803. Soon after the 1792 conflict, Padmakar and Man Kavi each composed a long poem in Hindi (Brajbhasha) celebrating the victorious Anupgiri; Padmakar’s poem focused on the 1792 campaign, whereas Man Kavi’s celebrated Anupgiri’s entire life and career, and indeed began with the life and career of his guru-commander, Rajendragiri. Both poems culminate with a lavish description of the victory at Ajaygarh and the decapitation of Anupgiri’s nemesis, Arjun. Allison Busch, Dalpat Rajpurohit, and William (Vijay) Pinch began translating the two poems in 2009 and finished a first draft in 2017. In their presentation on 21 March, Rajpurohit and Pinch will present selections from the two poems and discuss their historical, historiographical, and literary significance.
Online Meeting 6:00 PM
A life in Hindi: the literary and pedagogical work of Susham Bedi
Susham Bedi's influential contributions to Hindi literature and Hindi-Urdu pedagogy shaped Hindi-Urdu language instruction in North America as well as debates about authenticity and the experience of the Indian diaspora in the United States. As a pioneering figure in Hindi-Urdu pedagogy, she worked to develop widely used reading comprehension and other instructional materials. Her influence as a teacher went well beyond her classrooms at Columbia: in collaboration with NYU, she trained, advised, and mentored more than 400 community, school and college teachers in methods for eliciting student output assessing proficiency levels. Susham Bedi's literary corpus, which spanned novels, essays, and poetry, was honored in 2006 by the Sahitya Academy. The seminar will also include readings of selected excerpts of her writing in the original Hindi with translation, placing her work in the larger context of her life and her prominent place in the Hindi literary world.
In this panel, professors Rakesh Ranjan, Aftab Ahmed, and Isabel Huacuja Alonso will discuss their Hindi-Urdu related research and pedagogy projects. Ranjan will speak about a new audio-visual interactive modules project. These pedagogical video clips, based on real-life situations with varied linguistic, social, and cultural content, follow the ACTFL guidelines and National Standards (5Cs) and engage students in the three modes of communication (interpretive, interpersonal and presentation). Ahmed will speak about his newest publications: translations from Urdu to Hindi of Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi’s Aab-e-Gum (Vanished Water) and Zarguzasht (Pseudo-Memoir). He will also present on his pedagogy project, a set of lesson plans based on “flash fictions” or “microstories” and “pocket ” Hindi films (5-15 minutes). Huacuja Alonso will speak about her forthcoming Columbia University Press book, Radio for the Millions: Hindi-Urdu
Broadcasting Across Borders, and will briefly discuss her newest course at Columbia, “Sound and Listening Cultures of the Indian Subcontinent,” which explores major themes in the field of Sound Studies with a focus on South Asia.