This is the first full-length study of the devotional poetry and poetics of the 14th-century poet-philosopher Vedantadesika, one of the most outstanding and influential figures in the Hindu tradition of Sri-Vaisnavism (the cult of Lord Vishnu). Despite their intrinsic beauty and theological importance, the poetry and philosophy of Vedantadesika have received very little scholarly attention. For the millions who belong to the Vaisnava tradition, however, these poems are not just classical literature; they are committed to memory, recited, sung, and enacted in ritual both in India and throughout the Hindu diaspora.
Steven Paul Hopkins here offers a comparative study of the Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Tamil poems composed by Vedantadesika in praise of important Vaisnava shrines and their icons-poems that are considered to be the apogee of South Indian devotional literature. He examines the varied ways in which Vedantadesika the philosopher and logician works his thought through the distinctive-at times antithetical-medium of the poem.
He also gives particular attention to the poems' emotional and visionary center of gravity: the different temple icons of Lord Vishnu, referred to by the poet simply as the various "lovely bodies" of God. In Singing the Body of God Hopkins brings to light a unique example of the creative synthesis of the Sanskrit and Tamil traditions in Medieval Tamil Nadu, and makes an important contribution to our understanding of intellectual and religious "cosmopolitanism" in South Asia.
Steven paul hopkins is associate professor of religion at swarthmore college in pennsylvania.
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