Accepted Paper:

Stealing heavenly glory for mundane use: on how to disguise a subversion under a stiff armour of poetics. (Example of Śivarājabhūṣaṇa, a 17th handbook of poetics)  


Piotr Borek (Jagiellonian University in Kraków)

Paper short abstract:

It was not a sincere devotion that loaded court poetry with alaukik themes. Using them was a way to fulfil patron’s political agenda to boast his power. Shifting divine glory into the ruler’s space could be hazardous, but convention allowed to pretend that it is only an aesthetic play.

Paper long abstract:

The formal frame of poetics and the religious content stamped the early modern texts in North India. Although the compositions belonging to the court literature are prevalently associated with the formal frame, they do not lack rich references to the elements of religious imagery, such as gods, goddesses, their miraculous space, objects and companions, other supra-natural beings or divine heroes. Both frames used to circumscribe the poetry, but a closer look on its function, curricula of production, and primarily on the way the required frames were being applied, surprisingly proves that they did not have to constrain the authors. The poet's craftsmanship consisted in reconciling people's religiosity and the traditional requirements of poetics with the mundane needs of pragmatic and power-oriented patron.

By analysing multiple examples of religiously-thematised stanzas from the 17th-century rītigranth by Bhūṣaṇ, I argue that they had no devotional considerations. The religious imagery has been used by the poet in order to propagate Shivaji's fame and powerfulness, which must have been part of ruler's political agenda. Religious and mythological themes have been materialised in two ways. One was with the help of various comparisons with the ruler or his dominion. This may still appear conventional and unoriginal, but the other, far more innovative, consisted in a certain abuse which made the image of the divine glory lose for the sake of the emerging leader. Only the authority of the dominant genre or the poetical convention was able to justify such heresies.

Panel P24
Secular knowledge systems in early modern literary cultures