Sanskrit Mahākāvya in the Contemporary World
Between 1850 and 2011, more than 5000 works of Sanskrit literature have been recorded as published (with countless more unpublished). Among these, there are records of at least 300 “long poems,” or mahākāvya, one of the great literary genres of ancient Asia, sometimes compared to the Latin epyllion, or “small epic.” The mahākāvya is surely the most classical form of classical Sanskrit literature (famously inaugurated nearly two thousand years ago by poet Aśvaghoṣa’s Buddhacarita and the two major poems of the Kālidāsa) and so its continued presence—and a relatively vibrant one given that Sanskrit is not in competition with modern Indian languages—invites careful scrutiny. This lecture will introduce the mahākāvya genre (in brief) and present one particular Sanskrit mahākāvya, composed in the 1970s and 1980s, to shed light on how this literary tradition has both retained its classical nature while fully participating in globally legible literary modernity. We can collectively explore the questions of how a premodern literary tradition modernizes, or how an ancient language can and does function as a vehicle to express the thoughts and feelings of the contemporary moment while reflecting on recent and current historical events.
About the speaker
Dr Deven M. Patel is a Sanskrit scholar, translator, and critic. His monograph Text to Tradition: The Naiṣadhīyacarita and Literary Community in South Asia (2014) is a landmark study of one of Sanskrit literature’s canonical literary works viewed through the lens of eight centuries of critical reception. He has also published on hermeneutics and translation practices, linguistics, and poetics in ancient and medieval India. He has also co-authored works on Sanskrit and Kannada poetics (Kavirājamargam: The Way of the King of Poets ) and a work on Sanskrit and Telugu grammar (Āndhraśabdacintāmaṇi: A Grammar of Telugu Language in Sanskrit ). Another ongoing project is a literary study of the Smithsonian (Freer Gallery) scroll manuscript of the Vasantavilāsa, a multilingual poem with paintings, from medieval Western India. Current areas of research and translation include multilingualism in India, modern Sanskrit literature, intersections of visual and literary culture, and the genre of anthology. He holds the position of Director of Undergraduate Studies in Comparative Literature and an appointment as Associate Professor of Sanskrit and Classical Indian Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, where he lectures on ancient epics, critical theory, philosophy, and mythology.
Free of charge