A somewhat problematic book has recently been devoted to one of the most fascinating (and neglected) works of Kashmirian Saiva Advaita: the Sivadrsti by Somananda. This furnishes the occasion for broader reflection on the role of philology in dealing with the complex texts of the Pratyabhijna tradition (or perhaps in dealing with any philosophical-religious Sanskrit text).
Among the great works of Kasmirian Saiva Advaita, the Sivadrsti (SD) by Somananda is assuredly the one that has received the least attention from scholars. Only a comparatively small part of it has been translated: Ahnika I and II by Raniero Gnoli, into English (Gnoli 1957) and Italian (Gnoli 1959) respectively. A Hindi translation (with Sanskrit commentary) by Radheshyam Chaturvedi appeared in 1986, which however hardly meets scholarly standards. Utpaladeva's important Vrtti on it has never been translated. Secondary literature on the SD is equally scarce. Only one (unconvincing) monograph has been devoted to it--in fact, only to a part of the text, Ahnika V (Mayer-Konig 1996). A description of its content and investigation into specific themes can be found in Torella 2002: xii-xx, and 2009. See recently Nemec 2012.
On these premises, the book by John Nemec is to be welcomed by the growing community of scholars specialising in Kasmirian Saiva Advaita, and more generally by all scholars interested in Indian philosophy.
The SD is to be considered the first philosophical work of Kasmirian Saiva Advaita, its only predecessor being the Spandakrika, in which, however, the experiential and scriptural approach largely prevails over philosophical elaboration. The SD is unanimously recognized as the first work of the Pratyabhijna school, despite the fact that the word pralyabhijcna does not even occur in it. Abhinavagupta at the beginning of his Vimarsini on the Isvarapratyabhijna-karika (IPK) does not hesitate to say that Utpaladeva's masterwork is in fact only a "reflect" (pratibimba) of the SD. This is, of course, not to be taken literally, for, although the SD was a powerful source of inspiration for Utpaladeva, it is only with the IPK that the Pratyabhijna becomes a very original and elaborate philosophical system. In the Somananda-Utpaladeva-(Lakgnapagupta-)Abhinavagupta triad it was the last who largely overshadowed his predecessors. Among the Pratyabhijna texts, Abhinavagupta's IP-Vimarsini became by far the most "popular"--if I may use this adjective for one of the profoundest and most sophisticated worldviews that India has ever produced. The main victim of the success of the Vimrsini was the extraordinarily important Tad or Vivrti by Utpaladeva, of which only a comparatively small fragment has survived (Torella 2007a b c d, 2012). A reasonable number of manuscripts of Utpaladeva's short commentary (Vrtti) have come down to us, but, apart from a Malayalam manuscript, all the other manuscripts are incomplete. A similar fate has overtaken the SD: while a handful of manuscripts of the mula text are extant, no com-plete manuscript of the Vrtti that Utpaladeva devoted to it, humbly named Padasamgati, has survived, none going beyond IV.75. And without the help of Utpaladeva's Vrtti any endeavor to understand the SD proves to be fairly desperate.
Nemec's book is very ambitious, containing the first critical edition of Ahnikas I-III of the SD along with Utpaladeva's Vrtti, an abundantly annotated English translation, the first in any absolute sense of Ahnika III and of the Vrtti on the three Ahnikas. A lengthy introduction, various indices, and a copious bibliography complete the book.
Before starting the evaluative part of this review, I should like to sketch the profile of the ideal Pratyabhijna scholar as seen, of course, from my own viewpoint. The task awaiting the modern Pratyabhijna specialist is not an easy one. It has become increasingly evident that no serious study of Pratyabhijna philosophy can be carried out without taking into account the complex relationship of its tenets with the main lines of Indian philosophy as a whole, particularly Dharmakirti and the epistemological school of Buddhism, Bhartrhari, Mimamsa and the other major darsanas, aesthetic and linguistic speculation. In other words, the time when Saiva Advaita philosophy was studied focusing exclusively (or nearly exclusively) on Saiva sources is definitively over. The student of Hindu tantra, and even more so that of Buddhist tantra, accustomed to a low standard of Sanskrit (with its own difficulties, of course) risks losing himself in the refined gastric Sanskrit of our Pratyabhijna authors, who do nothing to conceal that they belong to a highly cultivated (and aristocratic) milieu. Spiritual experience is poured into a complex gastric text, and to understand it we must turn primarily to textual tools or, to use a word perhaps no longer very popular in the contemporary American academy, to philology. Years ago, invited to deliver an Infinity Lecture at the University of Hawaii, I received a warning from my host, Prof. Arindam Chakrabarti, about not being too philological in my exposition ("You must understand, we are in a Philosophy Department"). The next day I started my lecture with a praise of philology, understood in the highest sense as a discipline that, by using paleographic, linguistic, historical, and hermeneutic tools, aims at establishing and understanding a text, (re-)placing it within its contemporary cultural parameters. As a rhetorical device to counteract the common identification of philology with something very boring, old, dusty, ugly, etc., I asked the audience whether they had ever seen the so-called Primavera (Spring) by Botticelli. Well, recent studies have shown that that beautiful and sensual young girl surrounded by flowers in the center of the painting in actual fact represents Philologia--the whole scene coming from Martianus Capella's De Nuptiis Mercurii and Philologiae, a work very highly praised at the court of Lorenzo il Magnifico. In it, we meet Apollo giving advice to his brother Mercury, tired at last of his bachelor status: "Leave Goddesses aside and marry Philologia instead: she is human, agreed, but among humans she is the closest to the stars."
Does Nemec's book match the above requirements? Before answering this question we should examine at some length both the edition and the translation. The time I have devoted to this task, unusual for a review, is well merited, I believe, because the SD and Utpaladeva's Vrtti are two exceptionally interesting texts, and Nemec's book makes a serious attempt at improving our understanding of them.
Nemec's critical edition is based on six manuscripts, and on the editio princeps published by the Kashmir Series of Text and Studies (KSTS) in 1934. Of the manuscripts, two are in krada script (G J), three in Devanagari (C P R), one in Malayalam. Only GJPR contain also Utpaladeva's Vrtti (G J until 111.75, P R until 111.64). He admits that he is aware of the existence of two other manuscripts, one in Sarada from Srinagar and the other a Devanagari transcript from Government Oriental Manuscript Library (Chennai), both used for the KSTS edition. With regard to the former, he says (p. 81): "It would be highly desirable to see this manuscript, but all my efforts to obtain a copy failed, due in no...