International Conference: Around Abhinavagupta – Aspects of the Intellectual History of Kashmir from the 9th to the 11th Centuries

International Conference:
Around Abhinavagupta – Aspects of the Intellectual History of Kashmir from the 9th to the 11th Centuries

08.06.2013 – 10.06.2013

Convened by Prof. Dr. Eli Franco and Dr. Isabelle Ratié

Sponsored by:

  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
  • Fakultät für Geschichte, Kunst- und Orientwissenschaften
  • Institut für Indologie und Zentralasienwissenschaften
  • Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig

Free admission, but the audience capacity is limited. For more information, please contact our office.

Conference Venue:
Universität Leipzig, Neuer Senatssaal,
Ritterstraße 26, 04109 Leipzig

Conference Program



Purpose of the conference and its significance for South Asian Studies

Abhinavagupta (fl. c. 975-1025) is arguably the most famous figure among Kashmirian medieval intellectuals, and rightly so: the staggeringly lengthy and refined works of this great polymath deserve to be qualified as exceptional in more than one way. The crucial importance of his contributions to Indian aesthetics (which include a treatise on histrionics and another on poetics) has long been acknowledged, but he has also authored, among many theological works, a huge summa on Śaiva rituals and metaphysics (the Tantrāloka, which constitutes an unparalleled source for the history of Śaiva religions) as well as two brilliant philosophical works expounding one of the most complex, subtle and original philosophical systems ever produced in India, the Pratyabhijñā (“Recognition”) system of Utpaladeva (fl. c. 925-975).

However exceptional Abhinavagupta’s works may be, they are grounded in a specific historical, social, artistic, religious and philosophical context. The conference’s goal is to explore this context and to map out the intellectual background against which Abhinavagupta’s figure has emerged a background no less exceptional than Abhinavagupta himself. For the works of the great Śaiva author, far from being an isolated phenomenon, can be seen as an accomplished expression of a unique intellectual milieu, that of Kashmir in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries.

In spite of its geographical isolation and limited territory, the valley of Kashmir
(surrounded by high mountains at the western end of the Himalayas, and hardly more than 130 km long and 40 km wide) then witnessed an extraordinary religious, artistic and philosophical effervescence. Not only did poetical and theatrical traditions flourish in the little kingdom: Kashmirian authors (among them the great Ānandavardhana) elaborated theories on poetry and theatre that were to spread far beyond the borders of the valley and are widely regarded as an important revolution in the history of Indian aesthetics. The grammatical science and the philosophical-grammatical tradition had brilliant representatives such as Helārāja, a commentator on Bhartrhari’s Vākyapadīya who was in all probability the son of one of Abhinavagupta’s masters. Buddhism had been present in the valley since ancient times, and while a prominent figure of the so-called Buddhist “epistemological school”, the Kashmiri Dharmottara, probably died at the very beginning of the 9th century, another great Kashmiri Buddhist philosopher, Śaṅkaranandana, sometimes called the “second Dharmakīrti”, seems to have been an older contemporary of Abhinavagupta, who often quotes him with admiration. Brahminical authors were no less active in the valley, and two brilliant Kashmiri representatives of the Nyāya tradition wrote important works during this period: Jayantabhaṭṭa (a 9th-century philosopher but also a fiercely funny satirist who authored a play on religious politics during the reign of king Śaṅkaravarman) and Bhāsarvajña (the author of the Nyāyabhūṣaṇa whose originality is pointed out by Abhinavagupta himself). The valley also hosted many Hindu heterodox movements, both Vaiṣṇava and Śaiva, and the Śaiva traditions in particular developed at that time a rich exegetical and philosophical literature, both on the dualist side (with e.g. Rāmakaṇṭha) and in non-dualist circles (with Somānanda, Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta). Finally, this creative ferment also resulted in a remarkable historiographical perspective, expressed in the 12th century Rājataraṅginī, a chronicle of the kings of Kashmir written by Kalhaṇa.

The cultural history of Kashmir has long attracted scholarly attention, but so far the studies on this topic have either attempted to describe one particular component (Buddhist,1 Hindu,2 linguistic,3 etc.) of Kashmir’s cultural wealth, or endeavoured to give a glimpse of the entire history of Kashmiri culture as a whole up to its most recent developments,4 whereas to the best of our knowledge, no attempt has ever been made to focus on the outburst of intellectual creativity that Kashmir witnessed towards the end of the first millennium. Some of the aspects of this period are better known than others: while our knowledge of Kashmiri Tantric Hinduism, for instance, has greatly improved in the last decades,5 we still know very little, to give but one example, of such an important Kashmiri Buddhist philosopher as Śaṅkarananadana,6 and much remains to be studied as regards both the chronology of the authors who were active in that time and place and the historical development of the concepts that emerged in medieval Kashmir.

Most importantly, recent studies have pointed out that this period of intense creativity can only be understood as the outcome of a series of dynamic interactions between different communities. The conference, by gathering leading scholars in the field who are working on various religious, philosophical and literary as well as social and historical aspects of medieval Kashmir, will provide a unique opportunity to draw an overall picture of these interactions. Alexis Sanderson’s ground-breaking work has shown that what scholars used to call “Kashmiri Śaivism” is by no means a monolithic religious current, but rather, a complex net of various interacting movements dominated by the dualist Śaivasiddhānta.7 In the field of philosophy as well as in that of religious exegesis, the works written in medieval Kashmir cannot be properly understood without taking into account the constant interaction between various competing traditions: as pointed out by Raffaele Torella, the Pratyabhijñā system of the Śaiva non-dualist philosophers, forinstance, is in fact pervaded by notions borrowed from their Buddhist rivals.8More generally, the original features of Kashmiri philosophical systems are the result of a constant polemical dialogue between many different schools of thought that is still in need of a thorough study. These fruitful interactions tend to transcend the categories in which the various types of Indian literature are usually compartmentalized: it has recently been argued that the Kashmiri aesthetic revolution is at least in part the result of what Pocock (following Kuhn) would have called a “paradigm transfer”, in the field of aesthetics, of a model first developed in the field of Vedic exegesis by the Mīmāṃsakas.9 Furthermore, although scholars have already pointed out the many points of contact between the aesthetics elaborated by the Kashmiri poeticians and the metaphysics of Kashmiri Śaiva non-dualism,10 the exact nature of this relationship remains to be determined.

The dynamics of the various interactions that made Kashmir such a lively intellectual center are also to be understood in view of the valley’s peculiar geographical and geopolitical position, and in this regard as well, much remains to be studied: Kashmir played a crucial role during the so-called “second wave” of transmission of Buddhism into Tibet (11th-12th centuries), which was to have far-reaching consequences for the history of Buddhism throughout Asia. The influence of medieval Kashmir on South Indian Śaivism, the circulation of texts from the Himalayan valley to the far South of India and their transmission and interpretation are an equally important and thus far little studied11 aspect of the intellectual history of Kashmir. While enabling specialists of various fields (religious and social studies, history, philosophy, grammar, aesthetics), linguistic domains (Sanskrit, Tibetan) and geographical areas (Kashmir of course, but also Tibet and South India) to share the latest results of their research, the conference will endeavour to trace for the first time the genesis and dynamics of the Kashmiri “golden age” as a whole as well as its impact throughout the Indian subcontinent.


  1. See e.g. J. NAUDOU, Les Bouddhistes Kaśmīriens au Moyen-Âge, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1968.
  2. See e.g. Y. IKARI (ed.), A Study of the Nīlamata. Aspects of Hinduism in Ancient Kashmir, Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University, Kyoto, 1994.
  3. See M. KAUL & A. AKLUJKAR (eds.), Linguistic Traditions of Kashmir. Essays in Memory of Paṇḍit Dinanath Yaksha, D.K. Printworld, Delhi, 2008.
  4. See A. RAO (ed.), The Valley of Kashmir. The Making and Unmaking of a Composite Culture?, Manohar, Delhi, 2008.
  5. For an overall view of the most recent findings in this field see D. GOODALL & H. ISAACSON, “Tantric Traditions”, pp. 122-137, 189-191 (notes) and 361-400 (bibliography) in J. FRAZIER (ed.), The Continuum Companion to Hindu Studies, Continuum, London-New-York, 2011.
  6. So far only one of his works has been edited and translated (H. KRASSER, Śaṅkaranandanas Īśvarāpākaraṇasaṅkṣepa, Teil 1: Texte, Teil 2: Annotierte Ūbersetzungen und Studie zur Auseinandersetzung über die Existenz Gottes, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien, 2002). For an account of the latest research on this author, see V. ELTSCHINGER, “Śaṅkaranandana’sSarvajñasiddhi. A Preliminary Report”, pp. 115-156 in F. SFERRA (ed.), Sanskrit Texts from Giuseppe Tucci’s Collection. Part I, Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente (Manuscripta Buddhica 1), Roma, 2008.
  7. See e.g. A. SANDERSON, “The Śaiva Exegesis of Kashmir”, pp. 231-442 in D. GOODALL & A. PADOUX (eds.), Mélanges tantriques à la mémoire d’Hélène Brunner/Tantric Studies in Memory of Hélène Brunner, Institut Français de Pondichéry/École Française d’Extrême-Orient, Collection Indologie 106,Pondicherry, 2007.
  8. See e.g. R. TORELLA, “The Pratyabhijñā and the Logico-Epistemological School of Buddhism”, pp. 327-345 in Goudriaan (ed.), Ritual and Speculation in Early Tantrism, Studies in Honor of André Padoux, SUNY Series in Tantric Studies, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1992.
  9. See L. MCCREA, The Teleology of Poetics in Medieval Kashmir, Harvard University Press, Harvard Oriental Series 71, Cambridge (Mass.), 2008.
  10. See e.g. E. GEROW, “Abhinavagupta’s Aesthetics as a Speculative Paradigm”, Journal of the Oriental American Society 114 (2), pp. 186-208.
  11. See, however, W. COX, Making a Tantra in Medieval South India: the Mahārthamañjarī and the Textual Culture of Cola Cidambaram, 2 vol., unpublished Doctoral Thesis, Department of South Asian Languages and Civilisations, University of Chicago, Chicago, 2006, pp. 173-240 (“Reading and Writing from Kashmir to Cidambaram”).


Author: Mrinal Kaul

I am a Kashmirian Orientalist

One thought on “International Conference: Around Abhinavagupta – Aspects of the Intellectual History of Kashmir from the 9th to the 11th Centuries”

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