Despite his immense scholarly accomplishments and spiritual genius, Abhinavagupta remains a stranger to most academics including Indologists. This special of the issue Evam, consecrated to Abhinavagupta showcases some of finest scholarship on him carried out over a twenty-year the period. The purpose is restore his rightful place in India's intellectual traditions and in the larger cosmopolitan configurations of human thought. Our more profound aspiration is to trigger a fundamental reconsideration of Indian philosophy especially of Abhinavagupta role of in shaping it.
It is hoped that this volume which contents fresh translation re-readings and re-assessments of his contributions to the fields of dramaturgy, literary criticism philosophy musicology and so on will be welcomed not just by Abhinavagupta scholars but by teachers and students of Sanskrit aestherics philosophy Tantra and literary studies worldwide.
Moti Lal Pandit Sudha Gopalkrishnan Kapil Kapoor, K. Krishnamoorthy Deniel H H Ingalls, Ernst furlinger Gary A. Tubb, Ranjish Mishra, Christopher D. Wallis, Arindam Chakrab, B. K. Matilal, Patrick Colm Hogan, Sheldon Pollock, Dusan Pajin, Jaidava Singh Padma Subrahmanyam, Neela Bhattacharya Saxena Debabrata B. Sensharma, Hersha V. Dehejia
Makarand Paranjape , the founding editor of Evam, is Professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University new Delhi.
Sunthar Visuvalingam gust editor of this volume is an independent scholar and researcher on Indic traditions, his Ph.D (Benaras Hindu University) was on "Abhinavagupta's Conception of Humor.
Long in the Making, this volume consecrated to Abhinavagupta and named after him is meant to remind us of a magnitude of accomplishment and a legacy of thought which though so crucial even central to India's intellectual traditions is still not as familiar as it ought to be not only to the laity but also to scholars and students. Compared for instance with Shankara, Abhinavagupta is almost a stranger to most of us. His name, Abhinavagupta which, as he himself states in Tantraloka (8:50) was given to him by his gurus, but later writers refer to him as Abhinavaguptapada. Pada, though an honorific, means feet which when added to gupta gives us the compound "guptapada" -hidden feet- in order words a snake. The full name thus means new (abhinava) snake or as G.T. Deshapande suggests a new incarnation of shesha, the serpent Deshpande then says that since Patanjali the grammarian was said to be an incarnation of shesha, Abhinavagupta, who was also skilled in grammar could be thought of as a new incarnation of Patanjali. He offers an even more farfetched theory when he says that Abhinavagupta who was so called because the very sight of him made other students as fearful as when they saw a snake (I4). Whatever be the case we know more about Abhinavagupta than of many other scholars, philosophers, sages and authors of India, most of whom remained largely anonymous. We not only know that his father was Narasimhagupta or Vimalakala and that he was born in the second half of the tenth century CE, probably between 950 and 960.
The names of his teachers are mentioned in his writings: Narasimhagupta his father, for grammar, Vamanatha for Davaita Tantra; Bhutiraja For Brahmavidya; for Dvaitavaita Shivagama; Lakshmanagupta for Krama and Trika Darshana Bhatta Induraja for Dhavanyaloka; Bhatta Tauta for dramaturgy; and Shambhunatha for Kaulagama. From his other works we know that he had an active scholarly career of more than twenty-five years during which he composed at least forty important works. These include five works on Sanskrit poetry and poetics commentaries on and expositions of the Tantras poetic compositions explaining Kashmir Shaiva philosophy and a commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita. K.C. Pandey in his book Abhinavagupta lists the more-than-nine-hundred sources and authors that Abhinavagupta refers to in his various works. This shows not only the extent and depth of his studies but the extent and depth of his studies but also leaves behind and invaluable guide to students of later times trying to reconstruct the history of Indian thought.
Following the conquest of Kashmir by Muslim invaders and the end of the system of patronage that supported the kind of scholarship that Abhinavagupta represented there was not only a rupture in the intellectual activities that prevailed but also a definite shift in their emphasis. The classical world of Sanskrit knowledge with its openness and liberalism was snuffed out after this last grate flash of effulgence. The centre of medieval scholarship moved to Banaras which embattled as it was came to be the stronghold of a kind of orthodoxy and narrow-mindedness that was alien to the ancients. The eclipse of Kashmir Shaivism and the culture that supported it also coincided in many ways with the closing of the Hindu mind even today this mind remains only partially reopened. In Sanskrit and philosophy departments round the country, Abhinavagupta is scarcely taught. When he is it is only with reference to his aesthetic theories and commentaries. At the very least he needs to be integrated into the syllabus. But that would mean the long overdue radical overhauling of our intellectual history, which totally marginalizes the Tantras among other branches of study that deserve to be revived.
Having said this it would be too ambitious even foolish to claim that the purpose of this special issue of Evam on Abhinavagupta is to restore his rightful place in India's intellectual traditions or in the evolving larger cosmopolitan configurations of human thought. We know that this is impossible to attempt in slim even slight collections of essays of this sort. Butt behind the more modest attempt of showcasing some fine scholarship on Abhinavagupta is the more profound aspiration, even intention that something of the nature of a fundamental reconsideration of Indian thought especially of might begin to happen or at any rate needs to happen sooner than later. Just as every school boy or girl in the West knows something of Plato or Aristotle we hope that one day their counterparts in India will know of Shankara and Abhinavagupta among other heroes and heroines in the arenas of the mind. We are also proud that this collection is graced by some of the greatest names in the field of Sanskrit scholarship and philosophy including the late K. Krishnamoorthy, D.H. Ingalls, B, K. Matilal and Jaideva Singh.
The volume would not have been possible without the passion and commitment of the guest co-editor Sunthar Visuvalingam. Sunthar's PHD at Banaras Hindu University was on Abhinavagupta's Conception of Humor," but in the years that followed he embarked upon what he terms a full-scale investigation into the vantage point of transgressive sacrality for deciphering first the Hindu tradition and now the other world religious. Sunthar's efforts in this domain are evident in his website.
www. Svabhinava.org. Many of the essays in this volume were first posted there. The website also hosts lively debates on a wide variety of topics pertaining to Indian thought especially aesthetics, cognitive philosophy, Tantra and so on.
Several of these are papers were first presented at two conference on Abhinavagupta held at the Musicology Department of the Banaras Hindu University in I981 and I982 respectively. The late Professor Premlata Sharma took the initiative and received funding from the University Grants Commission, New Delhi. Sunthar was subsequently entrusted with the publication of these papers in three separate volumes on Aesthetics Philosophy and Religion. More than twenty years later some of these essays are finally being published. They have now assumed a historical and cultural significance beyond their immediate context partly because some of their authors are no more on this earth and also because their stature has grown, not diminished with their passing.
Sunthar's exertions on Abhinava are far work over. His life-work is very much inspired by his study of the writings of Abhinavagupta, indicative of the great hidden (gupta) treasure of India that the world now claims as its own. His website is therefore more than a passive mirror reflecting Abhinava's thought -it is an evolving multi-faceted dialogue spanning the millennium not only between Sunthar and Abhinava, but between each one of us (sva) and the universal promise of his ideas. That is why Sunthar prefixes the site with the letters sva suggestive of his own initials, S.V., but also of his attempt to make Abhinavagupta our very own, sva so full of symbolic possibilities of reconstruction (pace Derrida). Indeed more than an attempt to conserve and systematize received traditions Abhinavagupta's commentaries, Sunthar believes radically re-new (abhi-nava) our understanding of our traditions by illuminating their apparent obscurities and contradictions with fresh insights that Abhinavagupta did not even bother to claim as his own (sva). Therefore, the highest tribute we could pay to Abhinavagupta is not make him our contemporary that is re-new him in the light of our own understanding.
The broader project of Evam is precisely to engender a wider understanding of Indic traditions so that the world-wide community of scholars and students trying to grapple with the significance of human life and thought can reshape the legacy of India in their own individual and collective light Abhinavagupta can perfectly illuminate such a quest because he sought the beautiful the good and the true these concerns converging so auspiciously in his writings into the unifying spiritual insight (pratibha) that can still sustain us. For not only was Abhinavagupta India's greatest authority on aesthetics but his discerning connoisseurship of the arts is informed by acute conceptual analysis and profound compassion for the welfare of the world. On the other hand he unravels and plays upon the subtlest philosophical notices with a conversational lightness and dexterity possible only in a spirit that has imbibed their very essence. And beneath it all, he fathoms the Tantric depths of our animal nature with a purity of intention that redeems and widens his and our own humanity.
Sunthar jokes that were Abhinava alive today he would be studying at the feet of the masters of every extent religious tradition identifying himself even with those primitive Bhairavas who had never become literate enough to write down their experiences. We would have been him whizzing past on our highways and by-lanes transgressing man-made speed barriers into the depths of Andalusia intent on rediscovering the secrets beautiful coexistence and cultural co-operation once enjoyed by the children of Abraham. We might have caught a glimpse of him seated closest to the exit at a Harvard seminar hall barely enduring another boring lecture by a speaker without anubhava or shaking his head with amusement sauntering through the Chicago Art Institute. We would have certainly overheard him polemicising in the vernacular just like the learned buffoon of the Sanskrit theatre amidst fellow bohemians in the intellectual capitals of the world. We might have bumped into him wandering the red-light district of Paris looking around for a prospective disciple of Picasso, just before he retired back into his cavernous studio to deploy his humour serenely in a chat session over the Internet exploring another as yet unmapped territory of human folly-global politics. For, as Sunthar's teacher Rameshwar Jha used to banteringly say to Swami Lakshman Joo perhaps the last exponent of Kashmir Shaivism Abhinavagupta and indeed India itself was not a disciple but a guru-factory! In short Abhinavagupta would have recognized himself as we should recognized him today in the crossfertilising multi-faced aptitudes of all of us involved in this hydra-headed collective enterprise of figuring out the way to the deepest possible liberation and celebration of the human spirit in its widest possible liberation and celebration of the human spirit in its widest possible dimensions.
In Sunthar Abhinavagupta has found an apt modern disciple and champion. We hope that Sunthar is able to sustain and continue his work not through his website but also through a sustained programme of scholarly publishing and outreach. Though the pressures of making a living in a world that is unrelentingly materialistic can be daunting if not distracting Sunthar has an ideal partner in his wife Elizabeth herself an Indologist of repute. Evam wishes them both every success in their noble and conjoint endeavours.
To come back to Abhinavagupta is at the least to recognize ourselves in Abhinavagupta's own enterprise. But to do this is at once to embark on a journey both exciting and exacting to the core of his own realisation, which is the chamatakara or the miracle of pratyabhijna or recognition our realisation in a flash of our own identity with our deepest selves. This is the greatest miracle because we believe with truly incredible strubbornness that we are anything but ourselves. We spend lifetimes trying to become who we already are. We forget our true nature our Shiva-hood, which is also our sva our very own self. Paradoxically that which makes us long for this realisation our consciousness of difference separation loss or lack is self the best proof that we are still and always ourselves. All the three kinds of malas or impurities that Shaivadvaya posits, anava-mala, karma-mala, and mayiya-mala karma only add up to limiting our consciousness. Avidya or ignorance thus does not mean absence of knowledge, but it does mean limited knowledge that leads to fundamental misconceptions about ourselves and the world.
Pratyabhija or recognition is thus not the cognisance of something new. Nor is the recollection of something old. It is the coming together of Smriti or memory and the newness of direct perception that produces the flash of recognition which is at once new and old. The recognition of the new as the old is what is the chamatakara or miracle of realisation of identity new experience. It is in that sense the making anew of the old the making known of what was hidden the recognition of the identity between them both that Abhinavagupta work shows us both that Abhinava's work shows us and which indeed his name suggests at its most earnest. Such is the novelty that its most earnest. Such is the novelty that we hope to induce in our reconsideration of Abhinavagupta in this volume.
What makes Abhinavagupta's teachings special is that they were based as he himself notes while introducing the central concerns of Tantraloka on a combination of his own experience logical argument and the authority of Shiva shastras. What makes such a model of exposition so instructive to us today is that it defies the modern notion that logical argument is incompatible with scriptural authority. The realm of inner experience is also branded subjective and therefore dismissible. What we are left with then is only logical argument and empirical or positive knowledge. This methodology tenders us only partial truths, which are unable to satisfy our soul's craving for self-knowledge. In Abhinavagupta we find and epistemological Combination of inner experience, logical exposition and knowledge of authoritative tradition, which suggests a way out of our present impasse.
Abhinavagupta himself listed the five Chihnas or sings of a yogi (Tantraloka 8: I36-37). They are devotion to the Divine; the power of mantras; control over the elements; capacity to accomplish one's ends; and the sudden knowledge of the shastras or the dawn of poetic afflatus. That these powers or Siddhis were present in Abhinavagupta is attested to by no less an authority than his chief commentator Jayantha (Deshpande I9). According to legend Abhinavagupta was yoginibhu born of a Yogini. Who were these yoginis? Were they bloodthirsty flying goddesses as some modern western scholars have tried to argue or were they forces of our consciousness that manifest when they needed either in human or supra-human from? Whatever be the case Abhinavagupta did accomplish a great task in his life: besides all his scholarly attainments he is also said to have reached the stage of Bhairava which is the equivalent of the state if jivanmukta or those living free in the Vedantic tradition. Legend also has it that at the close of his life he retired into the Bhairava cave with a thousand of his disciples. On his way in he recited the Bhairava Stava, which he had composed himself. He then vanished in a flash of light never to return. Whatever the truth behind the legend it would seem that Abhinavagupta and his school of thought disappeared suddenly from the horizons of Indian thought.
Sporadic not sustained or systematic as modern Abhinavagupta scholarship has been it has still brought this major intellectual and cultural figure back into our ken. To this growing corpus of work, Evam would like to add this special issue dedicated to him.
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