Chandrika and Ranjan Tandon Professor of Hindu Studies
My research has focused on three fields - on religion, literature, and theatre in South Asia, more specifically in early modern and modern North India. While these fields typically belong to different disciplines, I regard them as closely interconnected. Thus my first monograph, The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions: Bharatendu Harischandra and Nineteenth Century Banaras (1997), considered the simultaneous emergence of modern Hinduism (reformist as well as ‘traditionalist’), of Hindi as the language of the Hindus, and of modern literary genres such as the five-act play, the essay, and the short story that would eventually form the mainstay of the modern Hindi literary canon. I focused on the quarter century (1860-1885) that witnessed the densest activity in these realms, and on the merchant-prince Harischandra of Banaras (1850-1885), who offered leadership and innovation in all three fields. Harischandra’s formulation of Hinduism took place in a broadly nationalist idiom, which took into consideration not only the tradition of the religious community to which he belonged, but also missionary discourse and contemporary European scholarship on Hinduism.
My interest in nationalism as it manifested itself in the performing arts led to my second monograph, Poetics, Plays and Performances: The Politics of Modern Indian Theatre (2006). Drama in modern Hindi emerged in late nineteenth century Banaras; it linked itself to classical Sanskrit theatre, but had already begun to discard any connection to religious performance. Its stony path to national status after independence, its recourse to ‘folk’ theatre in order to create one of its many genealogies, its struggle to remain both modern and Indian, and its vicissitudes under policy-makers in Delhi were the focus of this volume.
As I turned to the twentieth century in my study of religion and literature, I found the pace of change quickening. Every decade brought new political and social ideas and new agitations. Literary and religious activity now belonged to two entirely different realms. Though the one was expressly secular and the other expressly religious, they addressed similar constituencies. However, no one figure of any standing was active in both fields. My research project was thus necessarily split into two, tracing two simultaneous, but now more subtly connected processes. In the one project, on the modernization documented in the literary process, I focus on the urban novel in Hindi from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. And in the other project, I focus on the waves of modernization in the wide field of Hinduism in roughly the same period.
I am also currently preparing two co-edited volumes for publication, “Religious Interaction in Mughal India,” and “Religious Interaction in Modern India”.