Tuesday, March 9, 2010

REVIEW: Krishna's Mandala

Krishna's Mandala - Bhagavata Religion and Beyond
D. Dennis Hudson
Oxford University Press
Rs. 725
ISBN: 9780198062769

This posthumous volume brings together seminal essays by one of the foremost American scholars on the religions of India. Exploring the ancient Indian milieu with an innate sense of mandala, ‘the surround’, D. Dennis Hudson’s writings constantly engaged with the core of Bhagavata dharma—Krishna as preceptor and lover in the real world. Hudson was driven by a desire to understand how this ancient vision of Vishnu’s forceful, subtle activity managed to stay alive in south India as rulers, poets, and ordinary people changed.

This collection is divided into three parts. The first part, ‘Tales of Two Cities’, deals with the physical, conceptual, ritual, and moral layouts of two ancient Tamil capitals—Madurai and Kanchipuram. The second, ‘Reading Bhagavata Texts—Temples and Tomes’, proposes radical interpretations of two familiar texts, the Bhagavad-Gita and the Bhagavata Purana, and shows how they connect to temple architecture. The final section, ‘Andal and the Sri Vaishnava World’, explores the connections between Bhagavata religion and gender, underlining the example of Andal, the only woman Alvar saint.

In the introduction, John Stratton Hawley highlights the crosscurrents in Dennis Hudson’s writings and situates this collection in the larger context of Hudson’s academic and personal world. The foreword by Romila Thapar depicts a vigorous, passionate scholar ‘not driven by scholarship alone’

Chaotic confusion  Hindu
Among the foreign Dravidologists of recent times, Dennis Hudson has a special place. He did have varied interests in south India's religious world (Christianity, Buddhism, Vaishnavism and Saivism), but his centre of literary research was the Vaikuntha Perumal temple in Kancheepuram. Krishna's Mandala is a posthumous publication edited by John Stratton Hawley, who is himself well known for his work on the bhakti poets of North India. Hawley's detailed introduction to the assorted essays presents Hudson's style of work in its proper “surround,” which had its accent on relating Hindu temples to the text of bhakti poetry. Hudson had linked the Vaikuntha Perumal temple to Tirumangai Azhvar's decad. A natural extension of this line of reasoning led him to study Andal's poems and the Srivillipputtur temple. The outcome of this research forms a substantial portion of the book.

Unfortunately, by falling in line with the style employed by some of his U.S. colleagues in the discipline of religion (Jeffrey Kirpal and Sarah Caldwell, among them), Hudson slips into the Serbonian Bog of Freudian analysis. “Historical interpretation of poetry necessarily requires conjecture,” he says. But how far should speculation be stretched?

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