Notes from a Mandala: Essays in the History of Indian Religions in Honor of Wendy Doniger

Notes from a Mandala: Essays in the History of Indian Religions in Honor of Wendy Doniger

Notes from a Mandala: Essays in the History of Indian Religions in Honor of Wendy Doniger

Notes from a Mandala: Essays in the History of Indian Religions in Honor of Wendy Doniger


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David Shulman


Some of us have, no doubt, forgotten. Once, not so long ago, the study of Hindu myth, to use one available word for the intricate and expressive narratives that Wendy Doniger has studied, was on the whole a rather gray and dreary business. Like the sands of the Taklamakan, the Sanskrit Puranas tended to swallow, or mummify, the few hardy souls who tried to find their way through them. Refractory problems of date, provenance, sequence, and context, to say nothing of the inherently refractory domain of meaning, proved maddeningly resistant to resolution. With a few important exceptions —Zimmer, Hazra, Kirfel, Hacker—scholarly works on Puranic and allied materials were far from engaging, on any level. Nonscholarly adaptations tended to be fluffy, flighty, mystical in cheap ways, romanticized, repetitive.

I remember because the moment this changed, for the discipline, was a critical moment for me personally. I was studying Tamil and Sanskrit at the School of Oriental and African Studies, (SOAS), and my Tamil guru, John Marr, was gently steering me toward the Tamil Puranas; so I had begun the tedious treck through the existing secondary literature on Sanskrit “myth” in the ample British collections. I came close to abandoning the whole endeavor. But in the summer of 1973 a book appeared in Oxford, entitled Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology ofŚiva, by my other main teacher at soas. the book still stands in a place of honor on my shelf of most necessary works (necessary for living a good life). I read it not infrequently, partly because of its paradoxically benevolent index—for, as I used to complain to its author, this index is so inadequate that to find anything at all you have to read the whole book, and it is a very good book.

Suddenly—still the summer of 1973—there was color, there were taste, vitality, wit, unconventional brilliance, haunting connections. This was a book written by a scholar of verve and energy who obviously loved the texts she was discussing. Let us not take this last trait for granted, even if it is clearly shared by all contributors to the present volume. It was once, not so very long ago, by no means universally the case that Sanskritists loved, or even liked, their sources; or that they possessed the minimal humility and . . .

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