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Rethinking Courtly Patronage Claims in Two Regional Mahābhāratas


· Sohini Pillai University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, United States of America)


07/28 | 15:50-16:10 UTC+2/CEST


In the field of South Asian Studies, religious literature and courtly literature are frequently relegated to mutually exclusive worlds. This paper focuses on two Mahābhāratas that both revolve around the Hindu deity Kṛṣṇa: Villiputtūr’s fifteenth-century Tamil Pāratam and Sabalsiṃh Cauhān’s seventeenth-century Bhasha (Old Hindi) Mahābhārat. A closer look at each of these poems reveals that they are also both heavily inspired by seminal Vaiṣṇava bhakti compositions from their respective literary cultures. Much of the limited work that has been done on the Mahābhāratas of Villi and Cauhān, however, has labeled these retellings as “courtly” based on multiple references to a chieftain named Āṭkoṇṭāṉ in the Tamil Pāratam and several lines praising a king named Mitrasen and the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in the Bhasha Mahābhārat. In fact, Villi’s Pāratam and Cauhān’s Mahābhārat are just two of many premodern regional Mahābhāratas–– including Peruntēvaṉār’s ninth-century Tamil Pārataveṇpa, Pampa’s tenth-century Kannada Vikramārjunavijayam, Nannaya’s eleventh-century Telugu Mahābhāratamu, Viṣṇudās’ fifteenth-century Bhasha Pāṇḍavcarit, and Rāma Sarasvatī’s sixteenth-century Assamese Mahābhārata–– that have been categorized as works of courtly literature because they contain allusions to local patrons. In an attempt to complicate the court/temple divide that pervades contemporary scholarship on premodern South Asian literature, this paper carefully examines the implications of each of the courtly patronage claims in the Pāratam and the Mahābhārat within the larger narrative contexts of these two Kṛṣṇa-centric Mahābhāratas.