Collected Essay K Ramanujan

The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan

A. K. Ramanujan and Vinay Dharwadker (ed.) and Stuart H. Blackburn (ed.)

Ramanujan, A. K.; Vinay Dharwadker (ed.); Stuart H. Blackburn (ed.);

The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan

Oxford University Press 1999/2004, 656 pages

ISBN 0195668960

topics: |  essays | india | poetry | lit | myth | culture | social | religion

Browsing through this book, I came across the arresting essay "Is there an Indian way of Thinking?". It presented a cogent and very perceptive and erudite argument that the western concept of equality before law may not be acceptable in Indian thought. Men are fundamentally different, and their circumstances must be treated differently. This puts the entire ethic of democracy and so many other institutions at risk. But we already are unequal in so many ways - we try to help others who have obvious, physical, iniquities. And even under law, you can establish mental sickness and you will be treated differently; only Manu says that states of excessive emotion - anger, fear etc - may also deserve special treatment. Perhaps what is being said here, while startling, may not be far from what is practised anyway.


General Editor's Preface VINAY DHARWADKER vii Introduction: Two Tributes fo A.K. Ramanujan MILTON B. SINGER xii EDWARD D. DIMOCK JR., AND KRISHNA RAMANUJAN xiv --I. General Essays on Literature and Culture-- vi Introduction by WENDY DONIGER 111 1 Where mirrors are windows: Towards an anthology of reflections 2 Is there an indian way of thinking? An informal essay 3 Towards an anthology of city images 4 Food for thought: Towards an anthology of Hindu food-images 5 Language and social change: the Tamil example 6 Some thoughts on 'non-western' classics: with Indian examples

II. Essays on Classical Literatures

Introduction by VINAY DHARWADKER 7 Three hundred ramayAnas: five examples and three thoughts on translation 8 Repetition in the mahAbhArata 9 Classics lost and found 10 Form in classical tamil poetry 11 On translating a Tamil poem 12 From classicism to bhakti (with Norman Cutler)

III. Essays on bhakti and modern poetry

Introduction by by JOHN B. CARMAN 13 On women saints 14 Men, women, and saints 15 The myths of bhakti: images of Shiva in shaiva poetry 16 Why an allama poem is not a riddle: an anthological essay 17 Varieties of bhakti 18 On Bharati and his prose poems

IV. Essays on folklore

Introduction by STUART BLACKBURN and ALAN DUNDES 19 The clay mother-in-law: a South Indian folktale 20 Some folktales from India 21 Hanchi: a Kannada Cinderella 22 The Indian Oedipus 23 The prince who married his own left half 24 A flowering tree: a woman's tale 25 Towards a counter-system: women's tales 26 Telling tales 27 Tell it to the walls: on folktales in indian culture 28 Two realms of Kannada folklore 29 On folk mythologies and folk purANas 30 Who needs folklore?


Where Mirrors Are Windows

One way of defining diversity for India is to say what the Irishman is said to have said about trousers. When asked whether trousers were singular or plural, he said, 'Singular at the top and plural at the bottonl.' This is the view espoused by people who believe that Indian traditions are organised as a pan-Indian Sanskritic Great Tradition (in the singular) and many local Little Traditions (in the plural). ... The official Indian literary academy, the Sahitya Akademi, has the motto, 'Indian literature is one but written in many languages.' I, for one, would prefer the plural, 'Indian literatures', and would wonder if something would remain the same if it is written in several languages, knowing as1 do that even in the same language, 'a change of style is a change of subject,' as Wallace Stevens would say. I would like to suggest ... that cultural traditions in India are indissolubly plural and often conflicting but are organised through at least two principles, (a) context-sensitivity and (b) reflexivity of various sorts, both of which constantly generate new forms out of the old ones. What we call brahmanism, bhakti traditions, Buddhism, Jainism, tantra, tribal traditions and folklore, and lastly, modernity itself, are the most prominent of these systems. They are responses to previous and surrounding traditions, they invert, subvert, and convert their neighbours. Reflexivity takes many forms: awareness of self and other, mirroring, distorted mirroring, parody, family resemblances and rebels, dialectic, antistructure, utopias and dystopias, the many,ironies connected with these responses, and so on. In this paper on Indian literary texts and their relations to each other ('intertextuality', if you will), I will concentrate on three related kinds of reflexivity. I shall call them (1) responsive, where text A responds to text B in ways that define both A and B; [co-texts] (2) reflexive, where text A reflects on text B, relates itself to it directly or inversely; [counter-texts] (3) self-reflexive, where a text reflects on itself or its kind. [meta-texts] TO [native commentators and readers] texts do not come in historical stages but form 'a simultaneous order' [T.S. Eliot, Tradition and Individual Talent], especially until the nineteenth century.' Modernity disrupted the whole tradition of reflexivity with new notions of originality and the autonomy of single works. ... the printing press radically altered the relation of audience to author and of author to work, and it bifurcated the present and the past so that the pastness of the past is more keenly felt than the presence of the past. Where cultures are stratified yet interconnected, the texts of one stratum tend to reflect on those of another: encompassment, mimicry, criticism and conflict, and other power relations are expressed by such reflexivities. Self-conscious contrasts and reversals also mark off and individuate the groups - especially if they are closely related, like twins. Closely related sects, like the terikalai (southern) and vatakalai (northern) sects of Tamil Sri Vaishnavism, serve even food in different orders, and self-consciously list 'eighteen differences' (Govindacarya 1910). The rather grossly conceived Great Tradition and Little Traditions are only two such moieties: as suggested earlier, bhakti, tantra, and other countertraditions, as well as Buddhism, Jainism, and, for later times, Islam and Christianity, should be included in this web of intertextuality. I shall draw here only on earlier Indian literatures for my instances. Stereotypes, foreign views, and native self-images on the part of some groups all tend to regard one part (say, the brahmanical texts or folklore) as the original, and the rest as variations, derivatives, aberrations, so we tend to get monolithic conceptions. But the civilisation, if it can be described at all, has to be described in terms of all these dynamic interrelations between different traditions, their texts, ideologies, social arrangements, and so forth. Reflexivities are crucial to the understanding of both the order and diversity, the openness and the closures, of this civilisation. One may sometimes feel that 'mirror on mirror mirrored is all the show'.'~uch an anthology can be made about other aspects of the culture, like ritual, philosophy, food and sociolinguistic patterns, or across them (see chap. 4, 'Food for Thought', below). Let me begin with small-scale examples and move to larger ones.

Is there an Indian way of Thinking?


[The concept of universalization] - putting oneself in another's place - it is the golden rule for the new testament, Hobbes' "law of all men" - "do not do unto others what you do not want done unto you." The main tradition of Judeo-Christian ethics is based on such a premise of universalization - Manu would not understand such a premise. To be moral, for Manu, is to particularize - to ask who did what, to whom and when. - p.426 [LATER, quotes Blake] "one law for the lion and the ox is oppression." -435, [also] Gandhi quoted Emerson, that consistency was the hobgoblin of foolish minds. [436] The highly contextualized Hindu systems are generalized into 'a Hindu view of life' by apologues like Radhakrishnan for the benefit of both Western and modern Indian readers. [436] [Even truth may be relative - leading to western, and 'modern' Indian assessments of hypocrisy among Indians - e.g. Kissinger ] An untruth spoken by people under the influence of anger, excessive joy, fear, pain, or grief, by infants, by very old men, by persons labouring under a delusion, being under the influence of drink, or by mad men, does not cause the speaker to fall, or as we should say, is a venial not a mortal sin. [Gautama, paraphrased by M\"uller 1883] - p.426 [Manu:] A king who knows the sacred law, must imagine into the laws of caste (jAti), of districts, of guilds, and of families, and [thus] settle the peculiar law of each' - p.407 baudhAyana enumerates aberrant practices peculiar to the Brahmins of north and those of the south. [Reminiscent of Borges?] There is a difference between the [Brahmins of the] South and the North on five points. We shall describe the practices of the South: to eat with a person not having received Brahmanical initiation: to eat with one's wife; to eat food prepared the previous day; to marry the daughter of the maternal uncle or paternal aunt. And for the North: to sell wool; to drink spirits' to traffic in animals with two rows of teeth' to take up the profession of arms; to make sea voyages. - p.427 The most important and accessible model of a context-sensitive system with intersecting taxonomies is, of course, the grammar of a language. And grammar is the central model for thinking in many Hindu texts. As Frits Staal has said, what Euclid is to European thought, the grammarian pAnini is to the Indian. Even the kAmAsutra is literally a grammar of love -- which declines and conjugates men and women as one would nouns and verbs in different genders, voices, modds and aspects. Genders are genres. Different body-types and charcter-types obey different rules, respond to different scents and beckonings. In such a world, systems of meaning are elicited by contexts, by the nature (and substance) of the listener. In the br^hadAraNyaka upanIshad, adhyaya 5, brahmana 2, Lord prajApati speaks in thunder three times: "DA DA DA": When the gods, given to pleasure, hear it, they hear it as the first syllable of damayata, "control". The antigods, given as they are to cruelty, hear it as dayAdhavam, "be compassionate". When the humans, given to greed, hear it they hear it as dattA, "give to others". (Hume, 1931) - p. 434 Even space and time, the universal contexts, the Kantian imperatives, are in India not uniform and neutral . . . Certain yugas breed certain kinds of maladies, politics, religions (e.g. kaliyuga). A story is told about two men coming to YudhiShThira with a case. One had bought the other's land, and soon after found a crock of gold in it. He wanted to return it to the original owner of the land, who was arguing that it really belonged to the man, who had now bought it. They had come to YudhiShThira to settle their virtuous dispute. Just then YudhiShThira was called away (to put it politely) for a while. When he came back the two gentlemen were quarrelling furiously, but each was claiming the treasure for himself this time! YudhiShThira realized at once that the age had changed, and kaliyuga had begun. - p. 432 [In Indian writings] the Levi-Straussian opposition of nature-culture makes [little] sense; we see that the opposition itself is culture-bound. There is another alternative to a culture vs nature view: in the Tamil poems, culture is enclosed in nature, nature is reworked in culture, so that we cannot tell the difference. We have a nature-culture continuum that cancels the terms, confuses them even if we begin with them. Such container-contained relations are seen in many kinds of concepts and images: not only in culture-nature, but also god-world, king-kingdom, devotee-god, mother-child. Here is a bhakti poem which plays with many such concentric containments: My dark one stands there as if nothing's changed after taking entire into his maw all three worlds the gods and the good kings who hold their lands as a mother would a child in her womb -- and I, by his leave, have taken him entire and I have him in my belly for keeps. Tiruvaymoli 8.7.9 [430-431] [name in Nammalvar: My Lord, My Cannibal] Indians are materialists, believers in substance: there is a continuity, a constant flow (the etymology of saMsAra!) of substance from context to object, from non-self to self . . . [432] [FEELING] In the realm of feeling, bhAvas are private, contingent, context-roused sentiments, vibhAvas are determinant causes, anubhAvas are consequent expressions. But rasa is generalized, it is an essence. [MEANING = sphoTa] In the field of meaning, the temporal sequence of letters and phonemes, the syntactic chain of words, yields finally a sphoTa, an explosion, a meaning which is beyond the sequence and time. [435] One might see 'modernization' in India as a movement from the context-sensitive to the context-free in all realms: an erosion of contexts, at least in principle. The new preferred names give no clue to birth-place, father's name, caste, sub-caste and sect, as all the traditional names did: I once found in a Kerala college roster, three "Joseph Stalin"s and one "Karl Marx." [436]

author bio

Poet, translator, and folklorist, A.K. Ramanujan has been recognized as the world's most profound scholar of South Asian language and culture. This book brings together for the first time, thirty essays on literature and culture written by Ramanujan over a period of four decades. It is the product of the collaborative effort of a number of his colleagues and friends. Each section is prefaced by a brief critical introduction and the volume includes notes on each essay as well as a chronology of Ramanujan's books and essays. ---blurb Poet, translator, and folklorist, A.K. Ramanujan has been recognized as the world's most profound scholar of South Asian language and culture. This book brings together for the first time, thirty essays on literature and culture written by Ramanujan over a period of four decades. It is the product of the collaborative effort of a number of his colleagues and friends. Each section is prefaced by a brief critical introduction and the volume includes notes on each essay as well as a chronology of Ramanujan's books and essays.
amitabha mukerjee 2012 Nov 12

Poet, translator, folklorist, and philologist A.K. Ramanujan was born in Mysore, India. He earned degrees at the University of Mysore and Deccan College in Pune and a PhD from Indiana University. Ramanujan wrote in both English and Kannada, and his poetry is known for its thematic and formal engagement with modernist transnationalism. Issues such as hybridity and transculturation figure prominently in such collections as The Striders (1966), Selected Poems (1976), and Second Sight (1986). The Collected Poems of A.K. Ramanujan (1995) received a Sahitya Akademi Award after the author’s death.
As a scholar, Ramanujan contributed to a range of disciplines, including linguistics and cultural studies. His essay “Is There an Indian Way of Thinking?” proposed a notion of “context-sensitive” thinking based in complex situational understandings of identity that differed significantly from Western thought and its emphasis on universal concepts and structures. Context-sensitive thinking influenced Ramanujan as a folklorist as well. His works of scholarship include The Interior Landscape: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology (1967), Folktales from India: A Selection of Oral Tales from Twenty-Two Languages (1991), and A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India (1997).
For much of his career, Ramanujan taught at the University of Chicago, where he helped develop the South Asian studies program. In 1976, the Indian government honored him with the title Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award in the country. Ramanujan’s other honors included a MacArthur Fellowship. The South Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies awards the A.K. Ramanujan Book Prize for Translation in honor of his contributions to the field.

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