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Archana Venkatesan | Fluid Text and Open Boundaries: On Poetry, Experience and Experiments in Translation

February 26, 2018 -
12:15pm to 1:45pm
Encina Hall West, Room 219

Free and Open to the Public 

The Tamil poems of the twelve āḻvār are embedded within a well-established commentarial tradition in Sanskrit, Tamil and Manipravala that traces itself to at least the twelfth century. To read these poems and to translate them is to reckon with this legacy. In the case of J.S.M.Hooper, who offered the first English translation of all twelve poets in his Hymns of the Alvar (1929), this debt expressed itself in heavy annotations and an explicit expression of reliance on the commentaries as a way to make sense of the world of the āḻvār. For A.K.Ramanujan, the commentaries were but a useful aid to be rejected or utilized depending on how it served his own finely honed aesthetic sensibility. Unlike either Hooper or Ramanujan, the Śrīvaiṣṇavas do not approach commentary as a way to make sense of esoteric, theologically demanding poems. Rather, commentary is a path of enjoyment and its goal is relish (anubhava). The purpose of a commentary is not simply to elucidate meaning, but through its practice, to induce in its audience the āḻvār-poet’s enjoyment (anubhava) of god. Framed as anubhava, commentary for the Śrīvaiṣṇavas is not only located in a written (printed) text, but lives and is refreshed through oral discourse, performance, and gesture. In such commentarial practices, the poem has no fixity and instead becomes a fluid, malleable thing of permeable boundaries, shaped into a conduit for the undammed emotion of anubhava. In this paper, she frames translation itself as anubhava, to explore the implications of working within the religo-aesthetic imperatives of the commentarial traditions of the Śrīvaiṣṇava saṁpradāyas. Guided by Śrīvaiṣṇava commentarial and performative practices, she offers an āḻvār poem three ways: the first anubhava takes as its departure point liturgical recitation, the second anubhava ritual performance, and the final anubhava oral discourse.

Event Sponsor: 
Department of Religious Studies, Center for South Asia
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