Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia

Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia

Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia

Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia


"A superb collection. This pathbreaking book is sure to have wide and lasting interest not only for students of South Asian literature, but for anyone interested in the role of literature in cultural self-definition, conflict and change."--David Damrosch, President, American Comparative Literature Association and editor of "The Longman Anthology British Literature

"This tour-de-force might be not only a landmark in Indian cultural history, but a major accomplishment in the scholarship of global cultures, inviting us to think critically about forms of history and communities of literature."--Walter D. Mignolo, author of "Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges and Border Thinking


Introduction Sheldon Pollock

It hardly seems proper to introduce a work about the literatures of South Asia, long known as home of many of the world's best stories, without telling one:

Once when the great and all-knowing god Siva was alone with his wife, she asked to hear a story never told before, and he told her the most wonderful one he knew—one in seven hundred thousand verses called, appropriately, the Brhatkatha (Great story). The next day when her handmaiden began to tell her the same story, the goddess knew that the girl's lover—who was one of Siva's attendants—had been eavesdropping. The goddess placed a curse upon him to live among mortals until he succeeded in disseminating the tale. (The goddess knew a good story when she heard one, and, after all, she was compassionate.) Reborn as a poet-grammarian, the attendant eventually found himself in a double exile: Not only had he been banished from heaven, but he was also barred from the court where he had taught poetry and grammar. For, having lost a wager that he could teach his king Sanskrit in a timely fashion, he was forced to leave the kingdom and dwell in the forest, and to avoid human language. To pass on the Brhatkatha he was compelled to use the language of mysterious beings called pisacas, and the only materials he had for writing it down were palm leaves and his own blood. The learned king of the region, his former patron, alone had the stature to make the book known in the world; but he was appalled by its language and appearance and rejected it out of hand. Desolate and alone in the forest, the poet resolved to burn the book. But before he cast each leaf into the fire, he recited it to the assembled animals, who listened enraptured. The king learned of the marvel and hurried to save the work. Only a fragment was left.

What must have made the Great Story great, besides the magic of the narratives themselves, is suggested by this metatale. Stories—and literature more . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.