Around Abhinavagupta: Aspects of the Intellectual History of Kashmir from the Ninth to the Eleventh Century.

Author:Reich, James
Position:Book review
 
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Around Abhinavagupta: Aspects of the Intellectual History of Kashmir from the Ninth to the Eleventh Century. Edited by ELI FRANCO and ISABELLE RATIE. Leipziger Studien zu Kultur und Geschichte Sud- und Zentralasiens, vol. 6. Berlin: LIT VERLAG, 2016. Pp. xx + 682. [euro]89.90.

The small valley of Kashmir, in the far north of the Indian subcontinent, has developed something of a fan base among Sanskritists. Though its image in modern news reports is almost exclusively of violent street protests, counter-insurgencies, and tense geo-politics, those who study the earlier history have access to a different Kashmir, one famous across Asia not for its politics but for the amazingly prolific and diverse intellectual culture that it packed into such a small area. Indeed, for almost 500 years, roughly between 750 CE and 1250 CE, Kashmir was home to a remarkable intellectual efflorescence that sparked lasting innovations in a variety of subjects and produced a wide range of scholars, writers, and artists.

Perhaps the most famous of these scholars, and in many ways the most impressive, was Abhinavagupta, a theologian in the Saiva branch of Hinduism who wrote works on philosophical theology and ritual exegesis, as well as devotional hymns and texts on literary theory and dramaturgy. Abhinavagupta was voraciously erudite, demonstrating detailed knowledge of everything from the classification of rhetorical figures to music theory to the fine points of Buddhist epistemology to the details of various Tantric ritual practices. This makes him the perfect basis for a broad intellectual history of Kashmir in this period. Since Abhinavagupta was interested in so many different branches of knowledge, almost any branch of knowledge current in Kashmir can be somehow connected to him. And since students and scholars of Sanskrit tend to be fascinated and charmed by him--he comes across well in translation--few will question the desirability of better understanding the background of his large and complex body of work. We have, therefore, this informative and valuable edited volume, the published proceedings of a conference devoted to the same subject.

The articles here illuminate many previously hidden threads in Kashmiri intellectual history. Some of them deal directly with Abhinavagupta himself or with the intellectual lineages he inherited or worked in. Others, however, have little direct connection with him. The articles by Orna Almogi ("Tantric Scriptures in the rNying ma rgyud 'bum Believed to Have Been Transmitted to Tibet by Kashmiris") and Chizuko Yoshimizu ("Transmission of the Mulamadhyamakakarika and the Prasannapada to Tibet from...

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