The Archaeology of Bhakti II: Royal Bhakti, Local Bhakti. Edited by EMMANUEL FRANCIS and CHARLOTTE SCHMID. Collection Indologie, no. 132. Pondicherry: INSTITUT FRANCAIS DE PONDICHERY; Paris: ECOLE FRANCAISE D'EXTREME-ORIENT, 2016. Pp. x + 609, illus.
This book is a companion volume to The Archaeology of Bhakti I: Mathura and Maturai, Back and Forth (EFEO/IFP, 2014, also edited by Francis and Schmid and reviewed by me in this journal, 137.1, 2017). These articles are the result of a second workshop held in 2013 in Pondicherry under the auspices of the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient. As the editors state, the purpose of the workshop and its resulting papers was to explore "the roles of kings, local elites, and devotional communities in the development of Bhakti." The authors have examined textual and material records found "in inscriptions, sculptures, monuments, and places" in order to consider the "public" versus the "personal" aspects of bhakti (p. 2). They see bhakti as a "strategy" or "style" (p. 4) and address issues of bhakti "agencies" (p. 5). In the course of this, many important questions arise: "What is the royal share in the development of a Bhakti deeply rooted in a specific place? What is the local share? How did royal Bhakti respond to local bhakti, and vice-versa? Is the patronage by members of royal courts, especially women, equivalent to that of ruling kings? Is it personal Bhakti or dynastic Bhakti" (p. 5)?
In the lead article, "Tirthas, Temples, Asramas, and Royal Courts: Towards a Mahabharata Ethnography of Early Bhakti," Alt' Hiltebeitel emphasizes the importance of tirtha and loka as crucial parts of the epic's narrative as it concerns the establishment of early sites for multiform religious expression and reward. Hiltebeitel illustrates how bhakti practices and emotions emerge from charged nodes of significance on pilgrimage routes, especially where tirtha and loka intersect, resulting in the ultimate eminence of Visnu, which then paves the way for the development of Krsna-bhakti.
In "Blob Glaube? Understanding Academic Constructions of Bhakti in the Past Century," Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee also draw upon the Mahabharata as the quintessential source for the "philosophy of bhakti" (p. 79) via the triad of "kingship, divine grace, and salvation" (p. 80). The authors urge us to rethink the received wisdom regarding just how bhakti as we now know it emerged and became what it now is: the whole story of bhakti as "revolution from below"; as a response to the religious needs of the masses; how religious elites were forced to accept and incorporate new religious forms or die out. Adluri and Bagchee examine two stances regarding bhakti and the Mahabharata--James Fitzgerald's "bhakti-as-interpolation" and the Biardeau and Hiltebeitel hypothesis of "bhakti-as-philosophy" versus a philosophy that they see as permeating the entire text. They want us to see that it is all about "the textual problem of the king in relation to salvation" (p. 103), stressing what they see as the Mahabharata's full consonance with the Upanisads, stating that the epic is not "propounding a philosophy of mere feeling: a real cognative transformation has to take place" (bhakti cannot be reduced to "emotionalism," in other words). They claim that bhakti "has an irreducible intellectual dimension, no matter how it is formalized in cult praxis and expressed emotively" (p. 118). Is bhakti all about moksa, spiritual release? I would maintain that it all depends on who...