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Ruling the small south Indian kingdom of of Tanjore (Thanjavur) under British colonial supervision, the Maratha king Serfoji II (1798-1832) built on a European education unusual for his time to engage with the Enlightenment in conversation with Indian knowledge systems and arts, and to disseminate European arts and sciences in Tanjore. His projects included translation, modern schools, and the first Sanskrit and Marathi printing press in South India. At the center of the king’s enterprise was his personal library of over 4,500 books and journals in English and other European languages. Serfoji’s collection remains intact, providing us with a unique, early instance of a valuable Indian library of European books.
In this presentation, drawing on research conducted toward her recently-completed biography of Serfoji, Dr. Peterson will examine the royal library’s holdings and trace its history of acquisition and use. Her aim is to illuminate Serfoji’s innovative and sustained engagement with Enlightenment disciplines, the uses to which the king put the knowledge embodied by the collection, and the circulation of European knowledge and printed books in the early-nineteenth-century India. Comparing Serfoji’s collection with contemporary collections in India and America, such as the Library of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, the Madras Literary Society Library, and the library of Thomas Jefferson, she will situate Serfoji’s intellectual profile in the context of European and Indian practices regarding Enlightenment knowledge. She will also discuss the dialogues generated between the king’s European collection and his modern schools, as well as his patronage of Indian knowledge systems and performance traditions, embodied in the Tanjore court’s immense multilingual (Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi) collection of manuscripts in the Thanjavur Sarasvati Mahal Library.
Dr. Peterson will be in conversation with Samhita Arni.
Indira Viswanathan Peterson
Dr. Indira Viswanathan Peterson is Professor (Emeritus) of Asian Studies, Mount Holyoke College, U.S.A. She held the David B. Truman Professorship at Mount Holyoke, has been Professor of Sanskrit at Columbia University, and Fortieth Anniversary Professor at the Five College Consortium of Western Massachusetts. She has a B.A. (honours) in English Literature from Bombay University, and A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University.
Dr. Peterson specializes in Sanskrit and Tamil literature, South India’s multilingual culture, especially in Maratha Thanjavur, South Indian history, religion (Shaivism), folklore and performing arts (classical dance and Karnatak music), and European-South Asian culture contact. She has published widely on all of these subjects. She has held a number of research fellowships, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the German Government’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Major publications include: Poems to Shiva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints (1989); Design and Rhetoric in a Sanskrit Court Epic: The Kiratarjuniya of Bharavi (2003); Arjuna and the Hunter (Bharavi, translated from the Sanskrit, Murty Classical Library of India 2016); and, with George Michell, The Great Temple at Thanjavur: A Thousand Years. 1010 – 2010 (2010). Two co-edited books are: with Martha A. Selby, Tamil Geographies: Cultural Constructions of space and place in South India (2007); and with Davesh Soneji, Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in modern South India (2008). Dr. Peterson was the editor of Indian literature for The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces (Expanded 6th Edition, 1995), and The Norton Anthology of World Literature (2001).
Indira Peterson has recently completed Tanjore Renaissance: King Serfoji and the Making of Modern South India, a biography of the royal polymath and innovator Serfoji II. In progress are Drama, the Court, and the Public in Early Modern India, a monograph on the multilingual dance dramas of the Thanjavur Maratha court, and An Enlightenment Library in Early Nineteenth-century India: The Personal Collection of King Serfoji II of Tanjore (1798-1832).
When she was eight, Samhita Arni started writing and illustrating her first book. The Mahabharata – A Child’s View went on to be published in seven language editions and sell 50,000 copies worldwide. Samhita’s second book, Sita’s Ramayana, a graphic novel developed in collaboration with Patua artist Moyna Chitrakar, was on the New York Times Bestseller list for Graphic Novels. Her third book, is The Missing Queen. Samhita was also head scriptwriter for the first season of ‘The Defenders’, a TV series produced by Tolo TV in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Prince is her fourth book.