Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The consolidation of literary registers in the world of the Senas and the beginning of its afterlife: Sanskrit and Bengali social poetics, 12th–14th century
by Knutson, Jesse, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2009, 258; 3350905
Abstract (Summary)

The dissertation explores comparatively the experimental Sanskrit poetry of the literary salon of Laksmansena of Bengal, on the eve of the Turkish conquest (1205 A.D.); concluding with a look at how this period was formative for the comparable inventions of the earliest poet in Bengali: Badu Candīdās (c. 14th century). The famous poets Jayadeva and Govardhana, along with many lesser-known authors, conducted radical experimentations with low registers, employing various forms and contents evocative of the folk and vernacular. The latter boasted that he had dragged the flavor of Prakrit (a group of lower register premodern literary languages) into Sanskrit 'as if drawing the turbid Yamunā river by force up to the firmament'. This trope of defying gravity illuminates much of what was unique about the Sena literary moment, and Jayadeva too, with a peculiar genre and peculiar meters, which he invented ad hoc, evoked the vernacular and popular in a fashion uniquely explicit.

If the Senas had dragged something low into the highest literary register of Sanskrit kāvya, their successor, the first village poet of middle Bengali wrestled something high and cosmopolitan—with many explicit references to the Gītagovinda—down into his rustic and often charmingly vulgar song-poem. Badu Candīdās's Śrīkrsnakīrttana is unthinkable in terms of the Sena literary world, yet unthinkable without it.

I argue that with the imminent collapse of a particular mode of political sovereignty under the Senas, the sovereignty of a particular separation of styles in elite state literature went into flux. Chapter One opens up a political history of the Sena literature through a systematic study of the tropes that king-poets and the poets of their court used to celebrate and reflect on themselves and their world. The remaining chapters present close comparative readings of individual authors. The conclusion presents a broad summation of the Sena poetry and Badu Candīdās as mutually illuminating, representing a literary historical phenomenon immediately commensurable with the defining political historical processes of medieval Bengal; arguing for a historicist understanding of medieval Sanskrit poetry in terms of its discrete political locations, and for a political historical mode of periodizing Sanskrit poetry.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bronner, Yigal
School: The University of Chicago
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 70/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian literature, History
Keywords: Bengal, Bengali, India, Kavya, Literary registers, Medieval, Sanskrit, Sena, Social poetics
Publication Number: 3350905
ISBN: 978-1-109-06371-4
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