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The four presentations on the vachana efflorescence of Karnataka will be an attempt to interrogate the subject from a new angle.
The composition of a rich and huge body of vachanas is one of the most impressive expression of Indian spiritual heritage. Both the quantity and quality of this corpus is unparalleled elsewhere. This enormous output consists of impassioned socio-spiritual prose poems composed by approximately four hundred seeker poets hailing from all sections of society – the whole gamut, from Brahmin to the untouchable, a considerable number of these poets are women representing various castes and professions. Such a phenomenon was not replicated anywhere else in the annals of pre-modern Indian literatures.
Vachana expression has till now been identified with a sect of Shaivism called Virashaivism/Lingayatism. Its historical framework is considered to be 12th century, in Kalyana, the imperial capital of the Chalukyas and later, of Kalachuryas. The main progenitor of Lingayatism, say scholars, was Basavanna, Finance Minister of emperor Bijjala. The literature also further assumes that Basavanna set-up in Kalyana Anubhava Mantapa, an assembly of saint-poets. The Vachana poets are supposed to have gathered in this assembly to debate matters spiritual, compose, read, and discuss each others’ compositions. The Lingayat literary harvest is said to be contemporaneous with the active period of Basavanna’s tenure with the emperor. This brief but intense poetic efflorescence was cut short by political upheavals caused by the violation of traditional caste rules. The questioning of the caste order and gender subjugation irritated the hegemony so much that it led to the unleashing of violence against the followers of the new sect.
A series of twists and turns resulted in Bijjala’s assassination by some militant followers of the sect which called for a violent response by the hegemony. In consequence, the revolution failed. This is the widely accepted version of this period. The available scholarship, for the most part, locates Vachanas on the map of India’s Bhakti movements.
The proposed presentations will critique the above accounts of Vachana expression. First of all, Shivaprakash’s approach problematizes the relationship between Vachanas and Lingayatism. It also seeks to demonstrate that Bhakti traditions cannot be seen independently of Natha/Siddha traditions. Though Basavanna’s role in the formation of Vachana focus cannot be denied, it is in fitness of things, in the light of the range and number of castes actively involved, to see the Vachana efflorescence as a collective expression of all the castes and communities of Karnataka.
Whereas the available literature has emphasized the devotional and mystical elements, this approach will emphasize the contribution of Vachana poets from the artisan class who evolved their own spiritual philosophy of Kayakayoga (the Yoga of labour), which is unique in our spiritual traditions. The framework of pan-Indian Bhakti will also be interrogated in the presentations. It will be argued that Bhakti traditions cannot be seen independently of Natha-Siddha and Saman traditions which have different spiritual orientations.
|July 20, 2022||Wednesday||6:30pm||An Introduction||An outline of the new approach to literary and cultural context of Vachanas|
|July 25, 2022||Monday||6:30 pm||The Path of the Hand||The neglected contribution and philosophy of artisan Vachana poets will be discussed to show that it was an independent soteriological approach different from Bhakti and mysticism.|
|August 6, 2022||Saturday||6:30 pm||The Path of the Heart||The specifics and varieties of Bhakti in the Vachana focus will be explored to show how similar and different is Vachana Bhakti from the rest of the Bhakti movements in Karnataka and the Indian subcontinent.|
|August 8, 2022||Monday||6:30 pm||The Path of Void|
Those among Vachana poets whose philosophy and poetry is coeval with Siddha and Nirguna poets from elsewhere in India will be discussed.
Recommended background readings:
A.K. Ramanujan, Speaking of Shiva
Velcheru Narayana Rao, Shiva’s Warriors
Manu Devadevan, A Pre-history of Hinduism
Ayyappa Panikkar: Medieval Indian Literature, 4 vols .
Sisir Kumar Das: History of Indian Literature, 3 vols
Manu Devadevan: God Is Dead, There Is No God (Vachanas of Allama)
H. S. Shivaprakash, I Keep Vigil of Rudra
H. S. Shivaprakash, The Word in the World
HS Shivaprakash retired as Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in June 2018. He was born in 1954 in Bangalore.
He is the author of 9 books of poems, 15 plays and 3 critical works in Kannada, which are widely discussed, performed and translated into several Indian languages as well as into English, Spanish, French, Italian German, Polish, Romanian, Lithuanian, Slovak, Turkish Arabic.
He has won of several book prizes from the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi for his books of poems, translations and plays.
Shivaprakash’s areas of academic interest include theatre/literary history, Indian theatre, Medieval Studies, Comparative Literature, translation and folklore.
He has been recognised with the prestigious Rajyotsava Award from Karnataka State (2006) and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award from National Theatre Akademi (1997), Sahitya Akademi (2012), Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award (2016), Kuvempu Bhasha Bharati Tanslation Award (2016) and Kusumagraj Kavya Puraskar (2017)
In the year 2000, Shivaprakash was part of the International Writing Program in School of Letters, University of Iowa, USA.
He has formerly held various positions over the years, including Editor, Indian Literature, the journal of National Akademi of Letters; Dean, SAA, JNU; Director, The Tagore Centre, Berlin, German.
Shivaprakash has participated in many important poetry festivals all over India and several in USA, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. He has also travelled, lectured and read poetry in various countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
His important English publications include Like Earth to Stars (Mumbai, 2018), Guru:Ten Doors to Ancient Wisdom (New Delhi, 2018), Everyday Yogi (New Delhi, 2014), In Other Words (Mumbai, 2014), Autumn Ways (New Delhi, 2011) I Keep Vigil of Rudra (Penguin Classics, 2009), Traditional India Theatre (New Delhi, 2006), Indian Theatre in 2000 (edited) (New Delhi, 2011), Mahachaitra and other plays.