Earlier this year Hamsa Stainton who is now the assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas completed his doctoral research on the topic “Poetry and Prayer: Stotras in the Religious and Literary History of Kashmir” from Columbia University. With the permission of Dr Stainton I am herewith reproducing the abstract of his dissertation which, I am sure, will interest many of us. He has been kind enough to allow me to do so and would be very happy if someone has any questions, comments or thoughts. He can be contacted at: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
This dissertation investigates the close connection between poetry and prayer in South Asia by studying the history of Sanskrit hymns of praise (stotras) in Kashmir. It offers a broad introduction to the history and general features of the stotra genre, and it charts the course of these literary hymns in Kashmir from the ninth century to the present. Historically, Kashmir was one of the most dynamic and influential centers of Sanskrit learning and literary production in South Asia. This dissertation focuses on a number of innovative texts from this region, such as Kṣemarāja’s eleventh-century commentaries and Sāhib Kaul’s seventeenth-century hymns, which have received little scholarly attention. In particular, it offers the first study in any European language of the Stutikusumāñjali, a major work of religious literature dedicated to the god Śiva and one of the only extant witnesses to the trajectory of Sanskrit literary culture in fourteenth-century Kashmir. This dissertation also contributes to the study of Śaivism by examining the ways that Śaiva poets have integrated the traditions of Sanskrit literature (kāvya) and poetics (alaṅkāraśāstra), theology (especially non-dualism), and Śaiva worship and devotion. It argues for the diverse configurations of Śaiva bhakti expressed and explored in these literary hymns and the challenges they present for standard interpretations of Hindu bhakti. More broadly, this study of stotras from Kashmir offers new perspectives on the history and vitality of prayer in South Asia and its complex relationships to poetry and poetics.