Indian Philosophy/Theology and Multilingualism

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!

10 Replies to “Indian Philosophy/Theology and Multilingualism”

  1. Hello Manasicha!
    Thank you for sharing your research with the rest of us. There has been precious little work done with this kind of approach, broaching the northern and the southern traditions and bringing them together as equals. It sounds like you are really breaking new ground.
    I think you are right on track when you talk about linguistic dynamics between the two being reflective of broader historical trends (if I understood you correctly? ). This makes complete sense to me.

    • Hi Lyone,
      Thanks so much for your encouraging feedback! It is indeed an under-researched topic and I hope to create better understandings with the focus on the South Indian religious environment. As much as I want to connect the northern and southern traditions, I feel like it can also be illuminating to start from the south given that there are many works done on the northern linguistic interplay already. I hope to expand my work in the future!

  2. As a man who has studied Vaishnavism I look forward to your dissertation which I trust throw much light into the philosophy of Visishtadvaita from a new perspective.

  3. Namaskaram Manscjsa
    Looking forward to your project which I trust will throw much light in the philosophy of Visihstadvaita
    with regards

  4. Thank you Manasicha! I look forward to reading more on the three chapters of your PhD thesis and on the texts you juxtapose! I also would like to read more about the three foci you mention (“systematization, heterogeneity, and harmonization”). The first and the last one evoke in my mind Veṅkaṭanātha, the great harmoniser of a heterogeneous and rich tradition.

    • Dear Elisa,
      Thanks so much for your enthusiasm! The last chapter indeed focuses on Veṅkaṭanātha. Specifically, I look at his Nikṣeparakṣā and some parts of the Rahasyatrayasāra. I will, of course, share the chapters with you when they are ready! I am also looking forward to discussing them with you!

  5. With the complexity of localization, most valuable work was done at the Baroda Oriental Institute on the Critical Edition of the Mahābhārata, showing how Southern traditions took root with ornate renderings of the text, incorporating local accounts of the history. This historic breakthrough has been widely overlooked in the West, resulting in simply reduculous late datings for figures like Vyāsa, who is supposed to have rendered a dozen ornate editions in as many regions! Lost that way is much ancient tradition, not least of Patan(~)jali as Lord of the Dance, and the yoga of expression that runs with it, through the palm-leaf texts in Tamil. So I’m hoping for a new dawn in authentic Orientalism through this creative complexity.
    To consolidate a regional tradition, one must attain a degree of system, to secure discursive autonomy. And if truth be told, you can find in Aristotle’s Metaphysics a *philosophy of systematics,* answering to that challenge, and laying a foundation for harmonisation (*sumphonia) as persued in commentary. So the questions of method here are very relevant in comparative philosophy.

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