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Overview of project
Panel presentation

Overview
The Sanskrit Knowledge-Systems Project investigates the structure and social context of Sanskrit science and knowledge from 1550 to 1750. The period witnessed a flowering of scholarship lasting until the coming of colonialism, when a decline set in that ended the age-old power of Sanskrit thought to shape Indian intellectual history. Ten scholars will inventory, collect, and analyze this scholarship in selected disciplines from four regional complexes (the disciplines include: language philosophy, logic-epistemology, law, astral science, medicine). Social-historical data on the intellectuals will be collected in a prosopographical archive. The outcome will be a volume of essays, the first of its kind, on forms of knowledge in India on the threshold of colonialism, examining at once the discourse of scholar-ship, its social life, and regional character. The bio-bibliographical archive, along with manuscripts of important unpublished works, will also be made available on a website. The project will contribute to future comparative histories of Indo-Persian and vernacular science of the period and, more broadly, of early-modern Indian and European thought.


Published Articles


Panel at the Association for Asian Studies, Annual Meeting
Sanskrit Knowledge-Systems on the Eve of Colonialism
Chicago, March 2001
Organizer and Chair
Sheldon Pollock, University of Chicago   s-pollock@uchicago.edu
Presenters
   Madhav Deshpande, University of Michigan  mmdesh@umich.edu
   Christopher Minkowski, Cornell University  czm1@cornell.edu
   Gary Tubb, Columbia University   gat4@columbia.edu
   Sheldon Pollock
Discussant
Robert Goldman, U. of California, Berkeley  sseas@socrates.Berkeley.EDU
This panel explores problems concerning the conceptual structure and social context of Sanskrit knowledge from roughly 1550 to 1750. This period witnessed a flowering of scholarship that continued until the coming of colonialism, when a precipitous decline set in that eroded the millennia-old power of Sanskrit thought to shape Indian intellectual history. Little research has been devoted to the scholarship, intellectuals, and sociality of knowledge in this epoch. Accordingly, we understand little of what it was about the Sanskrit knowledge then produced that made it so vulnerable to colonial modernity. The seventeenth-century was a period of remarkable innovation in many ways, innovation now sometimes anachronistically misinterpreted as traditionalism. Minkowski shows how a commentator on the great Indian epic deployed a new style of interpretation to read the entire Mahabharata as a Vedic allegory, and seeks to find contextual grounds for this new mode of reading. Tubb examines the remarkable confrontation with European knowledge in the exact sciences at the Jaipur court in the early eighteenth-century, when orthodox beliefs were consciously abandoned in the face of new paradigms. Deshpande explores the role of Sanskrit studies in the polity of the Peshwas, the successors of the Marathas, who attempted to arrest the erosion of Sanskrit scholarship seen in many other parts of the subcontinent. Finally, Pollock examines the languages of scholarship in early-modern South Asia, and tries to understand why the process of vernacularization so powerfully evidenced in the literary sphere was resisted in the domain of science.
"On the Success of Nilakantha's Commentary"
Christopher Minkowski
Cornell University
Nilakantha Caturdhara, who flourished in Banaras in the second half of the 17th Century, produced the only commentary on the Mahabharata that is widely used in Sanskrit studies today. Yet, when attention turns to the content of his commentary Nilakantha is.often found by modern scholars to be a disappointment or an annoyance, on account of his "fanciful interpretations," and his "Vedantic allegorizing." Why then has his commentary appeared regularly with the Mahabharata since the early days of its publication? Is it safe to suppose that Nilakantha represents the "traditional" understanding of the text?
It is an achronism to expect Nilakantha to share our particular type of historical consciousness of texts. And yet it is anachronism of another kind to find in his commentary the expression of an "orthodox Hindu consciousness." Nilakantha tells us that he proposes to read the Mahabharata in a way that no previous commentator has done, in order to reveal its hidden sense. Perhaps it is exactly this "mystical allegorizing" that distinguished Nilakantha's work, found favor in his own day, and accounted for the wide dissemination of his work. On this view, his commentary attained prominence exactly for the features that Indologists have most deplored, features that were his innovations by design, though they appear commonplace to us today. Can we further suppose that the times in which Nilakantha lived called this new commentary forth, and that the revelation of a previously undiscovered inner sense formed the terms in which innovation was valued in early-modern Banaras?
"Sanskrit Traditions during the Rule of the Peshwas: Maintenance and Transition"
Madhav M. Deshpande
University of Michigan
The rule of the Peshwas, the Brahmin prime-ministers of Shivaji's descendants, represents one of the most important example of pre-colonial Indian governance. Its beginning in 1690s connects it with the older medieval patterns, while its end at the hand of the British armies in 1818 marks an important transition to colonialism. Since the British captured Pune, the capital of the Peshwas, without destroying it, they came to possess the entire official records of the Peshwas, and it is through these massive collections of documents dealing with almost every dimension of official and private life of the Peshwas, that one can reconstruct a detailed picture of the period. The Sanskrit traditions of learning form an important part of the life of this epoch, and the present paper offers glimpses of the circumstances under which the Sanskrit traditions found themselves during this period. The Peshwas not only supported the Sanskrit traditions through official donations of large sums each year to thousands of Sanskrit scholars, the Sanskrit traditions were at the very core of the Peshwa mentality and their cultural and political framework. This is seen in the decisive role played by these traditions in legal decision-making at the Peshwa court, their military time-tables, and the perceived needs reflected in their correspondence. At the same time, the Europeans are appearing on the scene and their ways are beginning to make an impact. The present paper offers insights into these transitions.
"Competing Systems of Knowledge in the Court of Jayasimha"
Gary Tubb
Columbia University
The court of Savai Jayasimha of Jaipur is a remarkable site for studying the sociality of Sanskrit knowledge in early eighteenth-century India. Although scholars working in the Persianate order typically drew inspiration from sources different from those of Sanskrit, this was not true in the exact sciences, in part because Persianate and Sanskrit scholars both relied on shared Greek sources, in part because they worked side by side. Jayasimha gave financial aid to at least a dozen Muslim scholars. In the introduction to his great Zij-i- Muhammad Shahi, prepared for presentation to the Mughal emperor, the king himself remarks on the history of Islamic astronomical tables. Jayasimha's court also provides extensive examples of direct engagement with European thought. Jayasimha writes of the discrepancy between his own observations and his calculations based on the European tables procured from Lisbon. This constitutes one instance in which we know precisely why a Sanskrit knowledge system was replaced by a European one: as Jayasimha patiently demonstrated to himself through a series of practical experiments, the European system gave more accurate results.
Jayasimha was a man at the center of some vigorous disputes on sources of knowledge, and one who, despite very strong sentimentally orthodox leanings, ended up abandoning a traditional system because of the greater empirical success of a new European one (in this case, Copernican astronomy with heliocentric elliptical orbits)---a factor that may have operated fairly widely in the larger demise of Sanskrit knowledge systems.
"The Languages of Science in Early-modern India"
Sheldon Pollock
University of Chicago
One of the key factors in the modernization of knowledge production in seventeenth-century Europe was the transformation of the vernaculars into languages of science (as for example in the work of Bacon, Descartes, or Galileo). Although South Asia shared a comparable history of vernacularization in the area of literary production, Sanskrit persisted as the exclusive code for most areas of science, and scholarship more generally, outside the Persianate cultural sphere. This paper examines the relationship between language and knowledge during the period 1550-1750. It seeks first to delineate the boundaries of this relationship in terms of disciplines and regions, and then to lay out the presuppositions in Sanskrit language philosophy that militated against the vernacularization of scientific discourse. A useful orientation to the latter problem, which summarizes the dominant position of Sanskrit intellectuals on the eve of colonialism, is.the work of the great scholar Khandadeva on scriptural hermeneutics from mid-seventeenth- century Banaras.


Panel at the Association for Asian Studies, Annual Meeting
Sanskrit Knowledge-Systems on the Eve of Colonialism II
Washington, April 2002
Organizer
Lawrence McCrea, University of Chicago   ljmccrea@midway.uchicago.edu
Chair
Sheldon Pollock, University of Chicago   s-pollock@uchicago.edu
Presenters
    Yigal Bronner, Tel-Aviv University  ybronner@post.tau.ac.il
    Jan E. M. Houben, Leiden University  J.E.M.Houben@let.leidenuniv.nl
    Lawrence McCrea, University of Chicago  ljmccrea@midway.uchicago.edu
    Christopher Minkowski, Cornell University  czm1@cornell.edu
This panel continues to present the ongoing work of the NEH funded collaborative research project "Sanskrit Knowledge Systems on the Eve of Colonialism," exploring the objectives, methods, and institutional dynamics of Sanskrit intellectual life in the period from roughly 1550 to 1750. This period saw a tremendous explosion of intellectual production in a variety of disciplines, producing new genres, discursive modes, and lines of affiliation and conflict both within and across disciplines. As the project enters its data-gathering phase, the participants are able to work toward a more historically nuanced and sociologically grounded understanding of the practices of Sanskrit intellectuals in this period.
McCrea considers the guarded and selective deployment of the precise formal techniques which characterize "New Logic" by the key figure in 17th century "new" scriptural hermeneutics. Bronner explores the special character of the dialectic between innovative and traditional currents in the work of three major "new" poetic theorists. Minkowski's paper examines the attempt of one 16th century astronomer to reconcile in a new way the tension between empirical observation and scriptural accounts of cosmology, and the controversy that ensued from this restructuring of exisiting astronomical models. Houben's exploration of the role of Vedic ritual in the pre-colonial period in relation to larger cultural practices, such as the continuing vitality of Sanskrit, prompts a more general reconsideration of ritual theory as such.
"Novelty of Form and Novelty of Substance in Seventeenth Century Mimamsa"
Lawrence McCrea
University of Chicago
The late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw the rise in several fields-- grammar, poetics, and scriptural hermeneutics (Mimamsa)-- of intellectual movements styling themselves "new" (navya). This idea of "newness" was certainly modelled on that of the already well-established school of "New Logic" (Navya Nyaya) which had existed at least since the thirteenth century, and was in part founded on the application in new areas of the precise formal and definitional techniques devised by the new logicians.
Yet the relationship between these "new" movements and Navya Nyaya was never one of simple imitation. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the field of Mimamsa. Khandadeva, the scholar generally recognized as the founder of "New Mimamsa", avoids the wholesale incorporation of the formal tools of new logic found in other fields in this period. He makes extensive use of them when arguing with the logicians themselves, but only rarely and very selectively applies them in confronting the key "internal" problems of Mimamsa in this period. Treating Khandadeva as a case study, the paper will consider the impact of these formal techniques in 17th century Sanskrit intellectual life. Does the rigorously formal discourse of the new logicians in some sense force itself on the intellectuals of this period? Can one respond to the arguments of the new logicians only by in some measure adopting their terms, making it difficult to resist assimilation to their formal discursive method?
"What is New and What is Navya: Sanskrit Poetics on the Eve of Colonialism"
Yigal Bronner
Tel-Aviv University
Remarkable new trends characterize Sanskrit Poetics (alamkarasastra) in the late pre-colonial era. Authors adopt a discursive pattern compatible with that of the logicians, compose in new genres such as the hostile commentary (khandana), show a fresh interest in the history of their tradition and work across disciplines at a rate hitherto unknown. Yet the relationship between such tendencies, rightly seen as the trademarks of a New (navya) Poetics, and actual theoretical innovation is far from simple.
This is partly the result of features that set poetics aside from other new schools of the day. Alamkarasastra never possessed a core-text to provide it with universally accepted foundations and, at the same time, it had to come to terms with an ever evolving textual tradition-- poetry. The discipline was thus highly susceptible to radical innovations, yet it also strove to preserve or even manufacture a tradition for itself. Both these tendencies became manifest through the highly novel idiom of the period, sometimes even within the works of a single author.
The paper sets out to explore this paradox of the New Poetics by briefly examining the lives and works of three of its key figures: The South-Indian polymath Appayya Diksita (c. 1550), who in many ways founded the movement, winning immense reputation but also many rivals; Benares's Jagannatha Panditaraja (c. 1625), Appayya's most vehement opponent and a poet and scholar in his own right, and the Almora based Visvesvara (c. 1730), a highly innovative traditionalist and a critic of both.
"Turtles All the Way Down? Tradition and Experiment in Cosmological Reasoning"
Christopher Minkowski
Cornell University
In 1503 the astronomer Jnanaraja completed the Siddhantasundara, the first general treatise on astronomy to appear in Sanskrit in three and a half centuries. In one chapter of the work, Jnanaraja re-opened a cosmological problem: how to reconcile the spherical, geocentric model of the astronomers with the flat-earth cosmology of the sacred literature, the Puranas. Jnanaraja sought to reconsider the position of accommodation reached by earlier astronomers, especially Bhaskara (11th Ct.). Jnanaraja argued against Bhaskara concerning the support of the earth, its power to attract objects, and the 'down-ness of down.' These proposals and others touched off a new round of cosmological debate in Sanskrit that continued into the 18th Century.
The history of Jnanaraja's ideas opens into a larger historical problem - how to place the Siddhantic astronomers in the wider intellectual history of Sanskrit authors. A way into the problem lies in asking an underlying question - in what would a satisfying "reconciliation" of Puranas and Siddhantas consist? One finds a growing interest among the astronomers of this period in integrating the method of astronomy with the Pramana system of proof that was developed in the principal sastras, especially logic. In discussing cosmology, astronomers were willing to put into play their three forms of gaining certainty and their mutual relations: evidence from observed phenomena, mathematical calculation, and textual authority.
"Ritual as Medium in Pre-colonial South Asia"
Jan E. M. Houben
University of Leiden
The strong presence of ritual, especially Vedic ritual, could be part of the explanation of a number of remarkable features of the South Asian cultural area, to begin with the persistence over millennia of Sanskrit as widely used cultured language. For a better understanding of the capacities and limitations of ritual as medium next to a number of other media, the pre-colonial period is of special interest, as (a) relatively detailed sources - though so far insufficiently explored and studied - are available, (b) developments in India were still largely having their own momentum, with only limited influence from Europe, and (c) an important alternative medium which would become of major significance in transforming South Asian culture both at the hands of colonizers (the British) and colonized (e.g. in Bengal, Maharashtra), viz. the printing press (technologically advanced form of writing with quite special features), was still largely marginal in South Asia.
In order to come to grips with "Ritual as Medium" a suitable theoretical model is to be developed. Staal's theory of "meaningless ritual" is the most recent attempt at rigorous theorizing of the oldest ritual system of which we have elaborate sources, viz. Vedic ritual. At first sight it seems unsuitable as theoretical basis for dealing with Ritual as Medium. Nevertheless, it provides a startingpoint from which a useful theory may be developed when some recent contributions by other scholars on ritual are taken into account. The theory will be illustrated with references to a few cases in pre-colonial South Asia.


Panel at the Association for Asian Studies, Annual Meeting
Sanskrit Knowledge-Systems on the Eve of Colonialism III
New York, March 2003
Organizer
      Dominik Wujastyk, Wellcome Institute   d.wujastyk@ucl.ac.uk
Chair
      Sheldon Pollock, University of Chicago  s-pollock@uchicago.edu
Discussant
      Sudipta Kaviraj, School of Oriental and African Studies
Presenters
      Dominik Wujastyk, Wellcome Institute   d.wujastyk@ucl.ac.uk
      Karin Preisendanz, University of Vienna   Karin.Preisendanz@univie.ac.at
      Johannes Bronkhorst, University of Lausanne  Johannes.Bronkhorst@orient.unil.ch
      Jonardon Ganeri, University of Liverpool  jonardon@liverpool.ac.uk

 
Panel Abstract
 
"Change and Creativity in Early Modern Indian Medical Thought"
Dominik Wujastyk
Wellcome Institute
"The Production of Philosophical Literautre in South Asia during the Pre-colonial Period (15th to 18th Centuries): The Case of the Nyayasutra Commentarial Tradition"
Karin Preisendanz
Institute of South Asian, Tibetan, and Buddhist Studies
"Bhattoji Diksita on Sphota"
Johannes Bronkhorst
University of Lausanne
"The New and Old in Seventeenth Century Indian Logic: The Case of Gokulanatha Upadhyaya"
Jonardon Ganeri
University of Liverpool


Conference in Association with École Pratique des Hautes Études, Sciences historiques et philologiques (Paris), and International Institute for Asian Studies (Leiden, Pays-Bas)
Colloque Théorie et Méthode dans l’histoire intellectuel de l’Inde – Seminar Theory and Method in Indian Intellectual History

Date: 28-29 juin/June 2004

Lieux: École Pratique des Hautes Études, Sciences religieuses (SR) et Sciences historiques et philologiques (SHP)
Organizers
      Jan Houben, École Pratique des Hautes Études   J_E_M_Houben@yahoo.com
      Sheldon Pollock, University of Chicago  s-pollock@uchicago.edu
Discussants
      Sudipta Kaviraj, School of Oriental and African Studies
      Christian Jakob, Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique   
      Francis Zimmerman, École Pratique des Hautes Études
      Peter van der Veer, Utrecht University  
Presenters
      Karin Preisendanz, University of Vienna   Karin.Preisendanz@univie.ac.at
      Jonardon Ganeri, University of Liverpool   jonardon@liverpool.ac.uk
      Dominik Wujastyk, Wellcome Institute   d.wujastyk@ucl.ac.uk
      Christopher Minkowski, Cornell University   czm1@cornell.edu
      Madhav Deshpande, University of Michigan   mmdesh@umich.edu
      Yigal Bronner, Tel Aviv University   ybronner@post.tau.ac.il
      Gary Tubb, Columbia University   gat4@columbia.edu
      Lawrence McCrea, Harvard University   ljmccrea@fas.harvard.edu
      Johannes Bronkhorst, University of Lausanne Johannes.Bronkhorst@orient.unil.ch
      Jan Houben, École Pratique des Hautes Études   J_E_M_Houben@yahoo.com
      Sheldon Pollock, University of Chicago  s-pollock@uchicago.edu

Programme et titres, Programme and titles, 28-29 June 2004

Jour 1 (Lundi 28 juin 2004):

Session 1 (EPHE-SR, Salle Marcel Mauss):

9:00-9:15 Introduction to the seminar, J. Houben and S. Pollock
9:15-9:45 Conférence d’ouverture : P.-S. Filliozat, La place de Nagesa dans la grammaire indienne
9:45-10:15 Contribuant 1 K. Preisendanz (Text, Commentary, Annotation: Some Reflections on the Philosophical Genre)
10:15-10:45 Contribuant 2 J. Ganeri (The situated interpreter: questions of method in the study of Indian intellectual history)
   Pause 10:45-11:15
11:15-12:00 Réponse A – S. Kaviraj + F. Zimmermann + discussion générale

  Pause de midi : 12:00 - 14:00

Session 2 (EPHE-SR, Salle Marcel Mauss):

14:00-14:30  Contribuant 3 D. Wujastyk (Problems in the History of Indian Medicine)
14:30-15:00  Contribuant 4 C. Minkowski (Jyotihsastra: the uses of the history and philosophy of science)
15:00-15:30  Contribuant 5 M. Deshpande (Localizing the Universal Dharma: puranas, nibandhas and nirnayapatras in medieval Maharashtra)
   Pause : 15:30-16:00
16:00-16:45  Réponse B – F. Zimmermann + C. Jacob + discussion générale

Jour 2 (Mardi 29 juin 2004):

Session 3 (EPHE-SHP, Salle Gaston Paris):

9:15-10:15 Contribuants 6 et 7: Y. Bronner and G. Tubb (Vastutas tu: Methodology and the New school of Sanskrit poetics)
10:15-10:45 Contribuant 8 L. McCrea (Playing with the System: Fragmentation and Individualization in Late Pre-colonial Mimamsa)
   Pause : 10:45-11:15
11:15-12:00 Réponse C – S. Kaviraj + C. Jacob + discussion générale

  Pause de midi : 12:00 - 14:00

Session 4 (EPHE-SR, Salle Marcel Mauss):

14:00-14:30  Contribuant 9 J. Bronkhorst (Innovation in seventeenth century grammatical philosophy: appearance or reality?)
14:30-15:00  Contribuant 10 J. Houben (Bhattoji Diksita's "small step" for a grammarian and "giant leap" for Sanskrit grammar)
15:00-15:30 Contribuant 11 S. Pollock (Four problems in the history of Indian political thought)
   Pause : 15:30-16:00
16:00-16:45 Réponse D – P. van der Veer + S. Kaviraj + discussion générale

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