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In Session: Representations of Kingship and the Political Sphere in Pre-Modern South Asia
2: Narrative and Pedagogy: The Bhagavad Gītā in 16th Century Gwalior
Thursday, March 25, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
University of Chicago, United States
In this paper, I will examine a 16th century translation or rendering of the Bhagavad Gītā into early Hindi by an author named Theganātha. The text is a translation of the root text into Hindi verse, and identifies itself within the Gwalior court, claiming to have been written for a prince named Bhanu Kumar. In his introduction, Theganātha emphasizes the text’s status as a poetic composition, delineating in some detail his patron’s disillusionment with the material world as a reason for his urgent need to understand the message of the Bhagavad Gītā.
This paper will examine sections of Theganatha’s text, a vernacular, pedagogical work framed explicitly within a courtly setting, in order to understand the ways in which he explicitly foregrounds the narrative dimensions and royal context of both the root text and of his own act of composition. I place his retelling of the Bhagavad Gītā in the context of other instances of early modern North Indian reception of the text and explore the translation’s reliance on prior interpretive traditions. For instance, how does this vernacular verse translation, of a text as widely known as the Bhagavad Gītā, navigate the text’s own rich traditions of interpretation and commentary in Sanskrit, if it does so at all? How do both the genres and social locations of different modes of reception of the Gītā come to bear on the perceived functions and value of the text for different audiences?