Friday, November 4, 2016

Christian Lee Novetzke's "The Quotidian Revolution"

Christian Lee Novetzke is professor of religious studies, South Asia studies, and global studies at the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. He is the author of Religion and Public Memory: A Cultural History of Saint Namdev in India and coauthor, with William Elison and Andy Rotman, of Amar Akbar Anthony: Bollywood, Brotherhood, and the Nation.

Novetzke applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Quotidian Revolution: Vernacularization, Religion, and the Premodern Public Sphere in India, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The last lines of the inscription are particularly curious to note in relation to the outline of a concept of a public culture in these edicts. The inscription invokes the term Maratha. We have the word Maharashtra attested several decades earlier, in the Līḷācaritra and elsewhere, as a designation of place, the Marathi-speaking region, as we will see again in subsequent centuries. But here we have something more: a designation of place that is also a designation of social distinction. Here Maratha means more than just Maharashtrian, but instead also implies Marathi-speaking, and, by extension, devotee of Vitthal. It does not yet indicate a caste or jati, as it will in later centuries and as it does in the present. The final line equates the Maratha parivanda, or the Maratha devotee, with the Vitthal sevak, the servant of Vitthal. We find a direct correlation between being Maratha and serving Vitthal. To my knowledge, this is the first instance of a term —Maratha— that designates the people of Maharashtra as a social collective, a group beyond simply a language or geographic unit, but as a distinctive social group, made coherent by their shared worship, the shared bhakti, of Vitthal.  It reminds me of a line from Irawati Karve’s well-known essay about traveling with the Vitthal pilgrims in 1950. She wrote, “I found a new definition of Maharashtra: the land whose people go to Pandharpur for pilgrimage.” We now have a state-issued inscription that articulates a region, a polity, a language, and bhakti itself all intertwined around the idea of being Maratha, being Maharashtrian.
In thirteenth-century India, in the region of Maharashtra, a new vernacular literature emerged to challenge the hegemony of Sanskrit, a language largely restricted to men of high caste. This new Marathi literature inaugurated a public debate over the ethics of social difference grounded in the idiom of everyday life. The arguments of vernacular intellectuals pushed the question of social inclusion into ever-wider social realms, spearheading the development of a nascent premodern public sphere that valorized the quotidian world in sociopolitical terms. The Quotidian Revolution examines this pivotal moment of vernacularization in Indian religion, literature, and public life by investigating courtly donative Marathi inscriptions alongside the first extant texts of Marathi literature: the Lilacaritra (1278) and the Jñanesvari (1290). I revisit the influence of Chakradhar (c. 1194), the founder of the Mahanubhav religion, and Jnandev (c. 1271), who became a major figure of the Varkari religion, to observe how these avant-garde and worldly elites pursued a radical intervention into the social questions and ethics of the age. Drawing on political anthropology and contemporary theories of social justice, religion, and the public sphere, The Quotidian Revolution explores the specific circumstances of this new discourse oriented around everyday life and its lasting legacy: widening the space of public debate in a way that presages key aspects of Indian modernity and democracy.

On page 99, I’m trying to convince my reader that a Marathi public existed in Maharashtra before and during the advent of Marathi literature and so a Marathi public already existed and gave a place to grow to a Marathi literature. Here, I am showing how inscriptions composed by the waning Yadava Dynasty sought to portray their legacy as imbued with a “Maratha” ethos, which here means “being Maharashtrian,” speaking Marathi, but importantly having a devotion to the land where Marathi is spoken and where the Hindu deity Vitthal is worshipped as a personal deity—the term bhakti describes this kind of worship. In this swansong of empire, I notice how the Yadavas yearned to etch their names in history as upholders of regional pride and faith, and thus transfer the glory of their reign from their own names to that of the general, quotidian population they governed.
Learn more about The Quotidian Revolution at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue