I am Manasicha Akepiyapornchai, a Ph.D. candidate in Asian Studies, Cornell University, NY, USA. I am excited to have a conversation with you this month, and I am very grateful for Elisa and other members who gave me this opportunity! Let me start by introducing myself and my research.
I have been in Asian Studies at Cornell for almost seven years for my master’s, and I am finishing up my Ph.D. in hopefully a year from now. My research focuses on the intellectual history of Indian Philosophy and Theology of the schools of Vedānta, in particular. I am also interested in Mīmāṃsā and Buddhist philosophy as they serve as the intellectual interlocutors of these schools and provide critical backgrounds. I pay attention to language choice and multilingualism in the composition and how the use of languages and linguistic movements shape and transform philosophy or theology in premodern India.
Specifically, my dissertation investigates the intellectual history of self-surrender, the primary soteriological doctrine of the South-Indian based Śrīvaiṣṇava tradition, which has Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta as its philosophical counterpart, through its multilingual scriptures and theological treatises. This tradition is devoted to God in the form of Viṣṇu-Nārāyaṇa and believes that a person can be liberated from the cycle of births only by surrendering to God, which is in accordance with one’s subordinate nature. Since the beginning of the tradition (around the tenth century CE), the Śrīvaiṣṇavas used Tamil and Sanskrit to hand down scriptures and expound theology. The Sanskrit scripture comprises the Vedas, the Upaṇisads, and other scriptures that are part of the broader Vedic orthodoxy. On the other hand, the Tamil scripture is believed to be composed by the first generation of the Śrīvaiṣṇavas, the Āḻvārs, South Indian devotional poets. While the Sanskrit scripture is shared by other intellectual and religious communities, the Tamil scripture is mainly revered within the Śrīvaiṣṇava tradition.
The doctrine of self-surrender is rooted in the confluence of the traditional scriptures in Sanskrit and Tamil. Interestingly, the early Śrīvaiṣṇava authors were directly engaged with only the Sanskrit scripture and composed exclusively Sanskrit texts. As the tradition socially expanded to accommodate more people from lower castes and those from different cities around the twelfth century CE, we see the early medieval authors’ attempt to bring two scriptural heritages together to accommodate the multiple communities. They initiated the use of a hybrid Tamil-Sanskrit or Maṇipravāḷa in their commentaries on the Tamil scripture and then independent treatises on the doctrine of self-surrender. During the twelfth to fifteenth century CE, the doctrine of self-surrender became central in the philosophical and theological treatises as well as ritual manuals in both Sanskrit and Maṇipravāḷa.
My dissertation deals with both Sanskrit and Maṇipravāḷa treatises on the doctrine of self-surrender across three generations of Śrīvaiṣṇava authors from the twelfth to fifteenth century CE, after the introduction of Maṇipravāḷa in the Śrīvaiṣṇava composition. In each chapter of my dissertation, I pair a Sanskrit treatise with one in Maṇipravāḷa from the same period to show the parallel yet differing doctrinal development in the two linguistic domains. Each chapter also indicates how the two linguistic media direct the doctrine in different directions. These three generations’ treatises on the doctrine in the three main chapters of my dissertation chart the turning points in the doctrinal development within the Sanskrit-Maṇipravāḷa interaction, namely systematization, heterogeneity, and harmonization. They also show that the turning points are conditioned by the expansion and contraction of the linguistic boundaries. The development of the doctrine during these three generations intersects the discursive linguistic movements, resulting in the theological multiplicity.
My project also aims to complicate the recent scholarship on South Asian multilingualism that focuses on a macro-binary paradigm between Sanskrit and a vernacular like Prākrit (e.g., Pollock 2006 and Ollett 2017). Rather than charting the linguistic evolution at the macro-level, I want to capture the nuances and complexity within locally territorialized linguistic movements with the attention to a hybrid language such as Maṇipravāḷa.
I am so looking forward to comments and discussion and I hope to share my methodology in the next post!