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Writer and translator
Executive Director, Sahapedia
Translator and Author
Professor of History, University of Delhi

Date & Time

Thu, 23 May 2019 Tue, 4 Jun 2019


Bangalore International Centre
7, 4th Main Road, Domlur II Stage
Bangalore, Karnataka 560071 India

Tea: 6:00pm – 6:30pm
Lecture and Discussion: 6:30pm – 8:30pm

Lecture Programme:

Thu, 23 MayLecture 1: Oral Traditions in Literature
VN Rao in conversation with Sudha Gopalakrishnan ~ The Sanskrit alphabet called varna samamnaya, is phonetically defined long before a graphic writing is created. This fact, not adequately noted before, has enormous consequence in the mode of existence of a text on Indian languages. For example, one could be a scholar without having to write. Major poets composed their texts orally, and scholars ‘read’ them orally. I would explore the consequences and discuss a variety of texts in this lecture.
Sat, 25 MayLecture 2: The Concept of Author in Indian Text Culture
VN Rao in conversation with Arshia Sattar ~ This lecture is devoted to discuss the concept of author in Indian text culture. Our usual understanding that an author with a definitive biography writes a fixed text which is then read by the reader does not work in India. The idea of fixed text by an author with a personal biography gave rise to the need for critical editions and philological studies. The lecture probes these questions and indicates why they may be problematic issues in Indian literature.
Mon, 27 MayLecture 3: Land, Pastoralism and Trade:
Three Ecological Bases to Study Indian Texts
VN Rao in conversation with Arshia Sattar ~ From this point of view, the Ramayana is a landed narrative, and the Mahabharata is a pastoral narrative and stories of the Kathāsaritsagara represent the narratives of a trading culture. This presentation traces how each culture developed values of heroism, virtue and truth suitable to their culture, which their stories represent. From this perspective, there is no such a thing as a national epic, which is a development after the landed culture dominated the other two and the idea of a nation emerged.
Fri, 31 MayLecture 4: Translation: Problems and Possibilities
VN Rao in conversation with Kesavan Veluthat ~ Nearly all major literatures in India ‘translate/adopt/rewrite Sanskrit texts of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Still we do not have an acceptable theory of translation. In fact, no Indian language has a word for translation. Anuvad, is a recent equivalent of the English word. While there is an active movement of texts from one language to the other, absence of a theory of translation is remarkable. Modern language chauvinism makes it difficult to suggest that languages of India actively borrowed from each other. This lecture discusses issues related to translation and investigates what Sanskrit literary theory says about it.
Sun, 2 JunLecture 5: Poetry in Public Space – Cātu
VN Rao in conversation with Sudha Gopalakrishnan ~ An interesting feature of Telugu, and perhaps of several other languages including Sanskrit, is what are generally called Cātu verses memorised by literate people and quoted in conversations. These verses are in oral circulation until recently when C. P. Brown and several other scholars following him collected them. The lecture discusses the features of the Cātu world, unfortunately lost to modern understanding.
Tue, 4 JunLecture 6: Impact of Colonialism: Victorian Morality and Hindu Obscenity
VN Rao in conversation with Kesavan Veluthat ~ A major impact of colonialism on Indian literature and culture comes from Victorian morality. Christianity considers sex as sin. But the first things that appeared to the western scholars in Indian literature are erotic descriptions. Religion is not exempt from them and Hindu gods and goddesses appeared to the British readers like characters in an x-rated movie. Influential literary critics in Telugu, Kandukuri Viresalingam and C. R. Reddy, dismissed several literary texts as unacceptable because of their erotism. I will discuss the impact of this new morality on Sanskrit and Telugu literature and hope to find response from scholars of Kannada, Tamil and Hindi literatures from the audience. In this context, Prof.Rao will discuss how Tagore was influenced by colonialism in most of his writings.

Residency Support:

The Jamun - a space to leave your mark


Velcheru Narayana Rao

Writer and translator
Velcheru Narayana Rao taught Telugu and Indian literatures for thirty eight years at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also taught at the University of Chicago, and he recently retired as a the Visiting Distinguished Professor of South Asian Studies at Emory. He has written more than fifteen books, many of them in collaboration with David Shulman and Sanjay Subrahmanyam. Textures of Time: Writing History in South India, in collaboration with David Shulman and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, (New York: Other Press, 2003), Girls for Sale, Kanyasulkam: A Play form Colonial India ( Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), and How Urvasi Was Won, a translation of Kalidasa’s Vikramorvasiyam, in collaboration with David Shulman, (Clay Sanskrit Library, 2009), are among his recent works. 
Narayana Rao‘s work spans many areas of cultural and literary history. Some of his ideas and perspectives, especially related to the early modernity, and the Oral communities are very unique. He is currently translating the 16th century classical Telugu text Parijatapaharanamu (Theft of a Tree) with Prof.Harshitha Kamath for the Murty Library of Classics. 

Sudha Gopalakrishnan

Executive Director, Sahapedia
Sudha Gopalakrishnan is Executive Director, Sahapedia, an open, online encyclopaedic resource on Indian cultures and the arts. She was the founder director of India’s National Mission for Manuscripts. Her books include translations of classical texts and original books relating to Indian arts, including the recent Kutiyattam: The Heritage Theatre of India. She is a trained dancer of Kathakali. She lives in New Delhi.

Arshia Sattar

Translator and Author

Arshia Sattar obtained her PhD in South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago in 1990. Her abridged translations of the epic Sanskrit texts, Kathasaritsagara and Valmiki’s Ramayana have both been published by Penguin Books. She has also written books for children and her literary reviews appear regularly in various Indian and international publications.

Kesavan Veluthat

Professor of History, University of Delhi

Kesavan Veluthat is an eminent historian of ancient and early medieval Indian history with focus on South India. He is an expert in epigraphy and languages such as Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada apart from Malayalam and English. He is currently the Professor of History at the University of Delhi.