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The New Ecology of Expressive Modes in Early Modern South India

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - NEEM (The New Ecology of Expressive Modes in Early Modern South India)

Reporting period: 2021-10-01 to 2023-03-31

The NEEM project ("The New Ecology of Expressive Modes in Early Modern South India") is exploring the hypothesis-- by now, at the halfway point, amply confirmed and documented-- that a major civilizational shift, of a systemic nature, took place in all the South Indian cultures and language areas beginning in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and accelerating in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This shift generated new cultural themes and ideas that are evident in all the expressive domains-- literature, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, theater, and dance, along with the theoretical and philosophical texts produced at this time in close relation to each of these domains. We seek to define these novel themes and concepts and to understand them in the light of the social, economic, and political developments that generated them. Simply stated, our overall aims are to offer a new understanding of South Indian history, seen as a single polyglossic, intertextual, thematically integrated eco-system in the centuries we are studying, and to formulate analytically the primary features of that system as we find them in all the artistic arenas, always locally inflected and contextualized. This work of synthesis will, be believe, transform the study of South Asian history in general and of all the regional south Indian cultures individually. We are already seeing the impact of our work on scholars of South Indian history, South Asian intellectual and cultural history, and philologists working in all the major languages of the south-- Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Sanskrit, and Persian.
During the first year of the project we concentrated largely on literary texts in Tamil, Sanskrit, and Malayalam; close, careful reading as a team is the key to our work and to the publications it generates. We began, and have continued in years 2 and 3, with Turaimankalam Civappirakācar's Tamil Cīkāḷattippurāṇam; the Sanskrit poetess Tirumalāmba's Varadāmbikāpariṇaya; the remarkable eighteenth-century Kerala Sanskrit play, Sītārāghavanāṭakam, by Rāmapāṇivāda; the Sanskrit theoretical text on Kudiyattam theater known as the Natankuśa (a critical edition of this work with translation and notes is now in preparation by Naresh Keerthi and Elisa Ganser); the Telugu Śrīkālahastimāhātmyamu of Dhūrjaṭi; sections of literary and grammatical works in Kannada; the Manipravalam masterpiece Candrolsavam; the grammar of Manipravalam (early Malayalam) known as Līlātilakam; and other texts studied by the individual team members (including middle Javanese kakawin and Sri Lankan Tamil texts). In spring 2019 we held an international conference on the main literary genre that crystallized during the NEEM period throughout the south, usually referred to as the prabandha. The papers from that conference are scheduled to appear in the Journal of South Asian Intellectual history. In August 2019 we held a conference on Kerala economic history, led by Abhilash Malayil from our group, in Kodungallur; the papers are to appear in the Indian Economic and Social History Review. In year 2 we concentrated largely on Malayalam and Kerala Sanskrit, with an emphasis on the performance tradition of Kudiyattam. In late 2020 and early 2021, meeting on Zoom, we moved into the realm of South Indian Advaita philosophical texts such as Dharmarāja's Vedāntaparibhāṣa (under the guidance of Dmitry Shevchenko). Here important discoveries awaited us, soon to be published in a work of synthesis by the PI on introspection in South Indian materials from the NEEM period. We have also held two zoom conferences: one on "A New Sense of Self: Exploring the New Conceptualization of the Self in Premodern South Asia" (December, 2020; a special issue of the Crakow Indological Journal will be devoted to publishing these papers); and a second on Courier Poems in South Asian literature (March 2021), to be published in a volume now being edited by Yigal Bronner and David Shulman. Our textual readings and seminars are continuing on a daily basis. Professor E. Annamalai is, we hope, coming for a 6-week residence as a senior scholar, beginning in June 2021; we will be reading with him texts from the Tamil grammarians and philosophers of language of the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries. In addition to all the above, many of the NEEM fellows have been lecturing on zoom to audiences on the project themes and discoveries (these include a lecture series by the PI at Jagellionian University in Krakow as well as lectures at the University of Washington, University of California, National Institute of Advanced Studies (Bangalore), Ashoka University, and elsewhere). We are in the process of finalizing the publication of a series of book-length monographs coming out of the project with Primus Books in Delhi, with the first volumes to appear in 2022-2023.
We have made several highly significant discoveries that were not anticipated at the outset. Thanks to the work of the NEEM team in its various tracks, and in particular to the path-breaking work of Dr. Abhilash Malayil, we can now identify with some confidence the new elite audiences and consumers, and also many of the artists and poets, of the new expressive works from this period (the central target of our research). Dr. Malayil's book in Malayalam can be found in Publications in this report; an English version, along with several other monographs, is now in preparation. In effect, we now have a prosopography from the NEEM period, also documented in the Pandit project which is part of our team's research. In terms of the major themes that crystallized during the sixteenth- to eighteenth centuries in southern India, we have been excited to discover the wide spectrum of introspective, first-person works of literature, painting, and music. As mentioned, a volume setting out these materials is close to completion along with a special issue of the Cracow Indological Studies. We expect to amplify these discoveries with materials from the Deccan (year 4 of the project), SriLanka, and Java (year 5). We also expect a series of monographic essays on the new grammars of language, including philosophy of language, aesthetic theory, and musicology that appeared at this time; this topic has been present from the beginning of the project but is now assuming concrete form. In part it will be presented at a conference on "Grammar Wars" at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies in May 2022. Perhaps most significant of all is the possibility of establishing the linkages and connections among all of the expressive domains throughout the entire cultural eco-system of the south. We expect this synthesis to achieve formal articulation in the two or three international conference-seminars we are organizing for the coming two years.