Philosophy vs Theology or Liberal vs Orthodox?

A few days back when a fellow Stephanian shared an article mentioning that the St Stephen’s College in Delhi is thinking of ‘replacing’ its Philosophy course with Theology, I became immediately concerned about a number of things. Of course the first thing to create unease was how could an educational institute of the repute of St Stephen’s even think about something like this. But immediately afterwards I also concluded that these decision-makers themselves have no clarity about the stark distinction between Philosophy and Theology as two separate academic disciplines (I offer the benefit of doubt by calling ‘Theology’ an academic discipline even if not in a very strict sense). I do not see anything wrong for an educational institution to function autonomously as far as they do not turn that place into a meaningless space of redundant hegemony where rationality is not offered any room. Nor is there anything wrong in introducing the study of Theology as far as it is done within the parameters of academic (and thus rational) code of conduct and does not end up producing radical minds instead of liberal minds. But to think of doing this at the cost of Philosophy is indeed meaningless. 

It is not simply about Philosophy versus Theology, it is also about liberal versus orthodox study of a certain discipline. By no means am I suggesting that the study of Theology cannot be done liberally. In fact, this is precisely we have ‘Religious Studies’ (social scientific study of various religious traditions) constructed as an academic discipline (even if such disciplines do not generally find place in Indian universities). Here I wonder, if the torch bearers of St Stephen’s would have thought of replacing Religious studies (that does not exist in St Stephen’s anyway) with Theology or vice versa, it would still have made some logical sense. But to think of removing Philosophy and introducing Theology instead, holds no ground in rationality. 

Any rational being would know that Philosophy is the backbone discipline for all other disciplines. All disciplines work under the rubrics of a philosophy (thus we have philosophy of history, philosophy of economics or philosophy of sociology) and when Philosophy itself is discussed as a discipline, we talk about the meta-philosophical investigations, in other words—how is the philosophy of philosophy done. While philosophy as a discipline is not preoccupied with the idea of God alone, Theology falls under a very myopic domain of Philosophy that is concerned with the philosophy of God alone. The sphere of Philosophy is endless, while for Theology it is restricted to the study of God and God alone. You can literary philosophise everything. Everything can be an object of a philosophical inquiry including God, sex, food, gender so on and so forth. 

Traditionally, the study of Theology has been associated with a more orthodox approach towards the study of God (even though there is a difference between how Theology of various religious traditions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc. is practised in universities and how it is done in orthodox traditional schools like seminaries, temples and mosques etc.) and everything falling within the domain of God including the ideas related to religion, spirituality etc. For Philosophy, however, everything is a problem and it tries to seek an answer to those problems. The existence of God or Absolute is also a philosophical (and not a theological) problem for them and that is precisely how they approach seeking an answer to this problem. Theology is traditionally restricted and even though it engages with the ideas of divine and sacred, it does not really problematise them and the antithesis created by the idea of profane (as opposed to sacred) is of no much concern for them. In a sense pure Philosophy begins where Theology ends. However, if Theology is to be understood as the rational analysis of the concept of God, then there is no need to distinguish between Theology and the ‘Problem of God’ as usually discussed in Philosophy at the first place. Philosophy does not focus on Philosophy of Religion alone. Like everything else, Philosophy does problematise the idea of God as well because it is not simply satisfied by the idea of the existence of the God alone.

A domain of study (a certain religion/religious ideology/religious culture) might be orthodox or absolutely unorthodox in itself, but we as academics cannot afford not to interpret it liberally. When we practice a discipline, we cannot practice it unidimensionally. We have to develop a multidimensional method to study it. It cannot be God and religion alone that I need to philosophise, I got to philosophise the social, literary, political ideas about God and religion as well. Besides, to begin with, I need to problematise these ideas in themselves outside the domain of religion. I can ignore them only if I accept that I am developing myself into an orthodox philosopher which is an oxymoron in itself. I might be religious to the core, but if I possess a sincere Will to study that religious traditional ‘critically’ (or liberally) then occasionally I should also be willing to be ready to step outside that belief system or in fact to step outside myself as a believer. If this is not acceptable to us, then we should also learn to remain content with whatever little we know without aspiring to know more about it and without claiming to be critical about it. Essentially, I should be willing to, as if, coming out of myself (again only occasionally) and looking at myself from outside me (possibly from a distance). This is what a philosopher would call a self-reflective or self-critical thought process or state of mind.

There is always a danger if one is dogmatic about Divine—it might produce radical minds, and to be philosophically critical about Divine might make the process of being undogmatic (and thus a strong believer in oneself) smoother. Unfortunately, academics all over India seems to be coming under the sway of ‘radical states of mind’ rather than ‘self-critical states of mind’. On the one hand where certain Indian academics are boasting (and rightly so) of brining revolutionary changes to Indian academic system even if so far only at a minuscule level, yet on another hand what public university systems are facing at the hands of the Power they are tied up with, is something to deeply ponder over. And to ponder about it, we need a systematic way of thinking—Philosophy.

Mrinal Kaul studied Sanskrit at St Stephen’s College, Delhi and is now Assistant Professor in Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Manipal.

Dhvani Workshop, New Delhi (March 4-8, 2018)

Organized by

The Abhyas Trust, New Delhi

The Abhyas Trust invites applications for a week-long Workshop on the Dhvani Theory from March 4-8, 2018,  at New Delhi.

The workshop will commence with a public lecture by Prof C Rajendran, titled Resonance Beyond: The Aesthetics of Dhvani, at the Gulmohar Hall, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on 3rd March 2018, at 7 p.m.

About the Workshop

This workshop will principally include a close textual reading of selections from the Dhvanyāloka of Ānandavardhana—the celebrated work on Indian literary theory—together with the Locana commentary of Abhinavagupta. The Dhvanyāloka deals with the entire gamut of signification in poetic language, arguing that great literature always communicates through suggestion (dhvani). Another salient feature of the work is that it offers a broad-based aesthetic theory relevant in other art forms like music, drama and painting. The workshop will focus on select passages of the text and explain its sense in English putting Ānandavardhana’s work in proper perspective. The aim of the workshop is to familiarize the participants with core themes in the text of the Dhvanyāloka so that the necessary theoretical background could be created to explore its aesthetic dimensions, which could broaden their horizons of thought and enhance their artistic sensibilities as creative artists and connoisseurs of art.

Deadline for Application:  Tuesday 30 January, 2018

Program and Faculty

Professor C. Rajendran, University of Calicut, Calicut will be the principal instructor. We are also expecting a few other experts of Indian aesthetics to join us. The morning and afternoon sessions will include the readings of the text in Sanskrit followed by special lectures in the evening by various experts in the field of Indian aesthetics. The seminar will be held in English and readings will be circulated in advance. The workshop will be preceded by a special lecture by Prof Rajendran on the topic Resonances Beyond: The Aesthetics of Dhvani on 3rd March 2018 to set the workshop in motion. This special lecture will also serve as an introduction to the workshop and all participants are mandatorily expected to attend. There will also be an evening lecture by Prof. Parul Dave Mukerji (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) who will talk about the Indian aesthetics from the lens of comparative aesthetics. Prof. Milind Wakankar (IIT-New Delhi) and Dr. Malcolm Keating (Yale-NUS College in Singapore) will also deliver lectures. A special performance will also be organized during the workshop.

Confirmed Scholar Participants

Prof. Parul Dave Mukerji, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Dr. Mrinal Kaul, Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Manipal, Karnataka

Dr. Malcolm Keating, Yale-NUS College in Singapore

Prof. Milind Wakankar, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi

Selection Criteria

Though a rudimentary knowledge of the Sanskrit language on part of the participants would definitely help, the workshop does not presuppose any theoretical background of textual scholarship. We seek interested research students and scholars from across India and abroad. The selection will be made based on the strength of the application. We cannot accept more than 25 participants  and the priority will be given to the applications from research scholars in disciplines or with experience in Sanskrit, Philosophy, Aesthetics, Yoga, Performing Arts, Religion and Literature. There will be a participation fee for all participants. Applicants will be informed about the decision of selection after the deadline of application.

Location and Accommodations

The event will be held at Studio Abhyas, 112 Anand Lok (basement), New Delhi. Centrally located in South Delhi, the studio is close to all the major cultural venues of the capital and easily accessible; it is also close to the Metro line. A registration fee will be charged that includes a working lunch, tea/coffee with snacks for the five days of the workshop. Travel cost will not be reimbursed. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to offer accomodation.

Registration Fees

Registration is mandatory for attending the workshop. No participation without due registration will be allowed.

Regular Participants: Rs. 4000

Student Participants: Rs. 3000

Application Information

Applications should include the following, preferably sent as PDFs:

1. Description of research interests and their relevance to the topic of the workshop (max. 300 words)

2. Brief Curriculum Vitae / resume highlighting relevant skills, experience and training.

Applications should be sent to:

Navtej Johar

(Convenor-Workshop on the Dhvani Theory)

Studio Abhyas

F 27 Green Park, New Delhi 110016


email: <>

Tel +91-981-888-2918

For more information please contact Studio Abhyas

Call for Participation: (ICPR) Workshop on Trika Philosophy of Kashmir, Lucknow (February 15 – 28, 2018)

Workshop on Trika Philosophy of Kashmir

(Reading of Abhinavagupta’s Īśvara-pratyabhijñā-vimarśinī Jñādhikāra: Last Four Chapters)

 The Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR) is organizing a fourteen-day workshop from February 15 – 28, 2018 on Pratyabhijñā philosophy, the epistemological school of the Trika Śaivism. The workshop constitutes the Phase-II of the Level Three annual workshop as part of the four-year programme that aims at studying-in-depth the entire text of the Īśvara-pratyabhijñā-vimarśinī by the celebrated Abhinavagupta on his master Utpaladeva’s Īśvara-pratyabhijñā-kārikā, the path setting prasthāna text of the system. The sole purpose in the  phase-II is to cover the last 4 chapters of the Book on Knowledge called Jñādhikāra. In this part our masters deconstruct the established paradigms of Indian philosophical discourse (specially those of Buddhist logicians) and reconstruct a system of logic defined by life-affirming world-view via core concepts of Prakaśa, Vimarśa, Vikalpa, Vāk et al encompassing within their ambit issues of logic, language, metaphysics and aesthetics, fully underscoring the need of “bringing psychology in accord with metaphysics” (to borrow an expression from Prof. TRV Murti) as integrated within a robust system of philosophical discipline which could be construed as integral dynamic absolutism. Understood in this way, the Vimarśinī claiming to be a Samyak Vyākhyāna (proper and comprehensive exposition) of the original Pratyabhijñā-Kārīkas (a text in the āgamic tradition), offers a counter perspective to the prevalent narrative of Kashmir Śaivism as a tantra-based doctrinal school and projects Utpala and Abhinavagupta as logician-metaphysicians par excellence in their own right.

The workshop will primarily have two parts – namely, reading of the core text and concerted theme lectures covering the issues raised in the text and/or the prima facie stand-points necessary for navigating the text. The basic purpose of these workshops including the one in hand is to prepare the new generation of young Indian scholars in an area which is suffering from the acute scholarship-deficit by enabling them to have first hand exposure to the original thought structure and methodology of the masters through their primary textual articulations.

 The workshop will be conducted at the Lucknow Academic Centre of ICPR by Prof. Navjivan Rastogi, the Course Director and Coordinator, together with other eminent scholars such as Goswami Shyam Manohar ji, Professors K.D. Tripathi, Rajneesh Kr. Shukla, Mithilesh Chaturvedi, Ambikadatta Sharma, Sacchidanand Mishra, Prakash Pandey and Drs. Meera Rastogi, Balram Shukla and others. Besides participants would be encouraged to proactively interact among themselves. For this a few sessions could be exclusively earmarked.

Each day of the workshop will have two academic sessions i.e., from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a lunch break from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The workshop will be open to all those who are interested in Kashmir Śaivism. As such faculty members and research scholars in the departments of philosophy/Indian philosophy, departments of Sanskrit with philosophy as one of its courses (including Sanskrit Universities) and also those who are connected with academic centres and institutions operating in the similar field will be eligible to apply. However preference will be given to the participants of earlier workshops. The candidates must bear in their mind that this workshop constitutes the 2nd leg of a four-year workshop programme. Hence those candidates who have participated in earlier workshops and undertake to participate in future ones as well will claim preference.

Those interested should apply online here.

Deadline for application: 31 October 2017

New Book by Navjivan Rastogi

“Kāśmīra śivādvayavāda meṃ pramāṇa-cintana”: “epistemological speculation in the monistic Śaivism of Kashmir” (pp.14+264) published by LD Institute, Ahmedabad.

About the Book:

The present monograph opens up a virtually hitherto unexplored area of fertile intellectual tradition of the Trika namely the epistemological. The foremost motivation for the author has been to seek an identifiable Trika model of philosophical enquiry, if there is one. The model, so envisaged, is theorized by him as the Dynamic Theory of Knowledge pivoted on the notion of re- cognition (pratyabhijñā) conceptualized as a rudimentary generalized mode of cognition per se. Spread over seven chapters under two sections plus a large thematic appendix the work seeks to reconstruct system’s precise formulations along the nature and definition of source of knowing and its specific modes, integral instrumentalities and the process mechanisms at work graphically recaptured and represented by seven tabular charts. The whole presentation is contextualized within the Trika ontology and against the inherited traditions of logical discourse.


Part One

Chapter One : Metaphysical sub-stratum

(i) Introduction

(ii) Ontological framework

Chapter Two : Epistemological theorizing

(i) Textual sources

(ii) Meaning of knowledge

(iii) Major concerns of epistemological enquiry

(a) Knowledge of knowledge: self-luminosity

(b) Knowledge not an object of another knowledge

(c) Validity and invalidity of knowledge

Chapter Three : Ingredients of knowing

(i) Knower

(a) Sub-notions of subjectivity

(b) Permanence and apriority

(c) Aesthetic dimension

(ii) Source of valid knowledge

(a) Pramāṇa-dependent establishment of an object (meya-siddhi) and the pragmatic role of epistemological functioning (vyavahàra-sàdhanatà)

(b) Definition of pramāṇa

(c) Dhārāvāhika jñāna (unitary flow of knowledge), pramāṇasaṃplava vis-à-vis pramāṇa-definition

(iii) Valid knowledge

(a) Non-difference between pramāṇa and its result (pramāṇa-phala)

(b) Divergence from the Buddhist view

(iv) The object of valid knowledge

(a) Principle of viṣayatāpatti (objectfication)

(b) Epistemic object intrinsically a universal (ābhāsa)

(c) ābhāsavāda : the sole object of pramāṇa-activity= an ābhāsa (manifestation)

(v) Abādhitatva (non-contradictedness)

(a) non-contradictedness: an essential component of pramāṇa-definition

(b) saṃvāda(“coherence”) and pramāṇa-definition

(c) pramāṇa and purposive action (pravṛtti)

(vi) Original insights of the śaivas

(a) Instrumentalization of the indeterminate perception (prakāśa : luminous immediacy)

(b) Pramā is bāhyatādhyavasāya (determinate apprehension of the externality)

(vii) The meta-epistemological nature of pramāṇa

Part Two (Kinds of sources of knowing)

Chapter Four: Statement of the problem

Chapter Five: Perception

(i) Definition of perception

(ii) Object of perception

(iii) Indeterminate-determinate perception : a dynamic concept

(iv) Types of perception

(a) Sensory perception a. Process of sensory perception

(b) Mental perception

(c) Yogic perception a. Immediacy of awareness : shining of manifestational vividity in awareness

b. The gateway to cognition of an other’s mind is through identification with the other

c. Impact of the Buddhist notion of bhāvaāprakarṣa

Chapter Six: Inference

(i) Inference : dependent and indirect cognition

(ii) Inference as reasoning (yukti)

(iii) Definition of inference

(a) Deterministic causation underlining vyāpti (relation of necessary dependent concomitance) : logical reason (hetu : middle term) redefined

(iv) Constituent parts of inference

Chapter Seven: āgama

(i) Context and background

(ii) āgama as prasiddhi (inherited cognition) (I)

(iii) āgama as prasiddhi (inherited cognition) (II)

(a) Essential unity of all scriptures: sarvāgamaprāmāṇya

(b) Two-fold variety of prasiddhi : the composed and the non- composed

(c) Source of scriptural validity:firm rooting of conviction (vimarśanirūḍhi)

(iv) āgama as śabdana (verbalizing)/pratibhāna (intuitive reflecting)

(a) Triple contextualization of śabdana

(v) āgama as āpti (verbal testimony : authenticity of the perfected being)

(a) Different kinds of the perfected authority

(b) āpti morphosized into prasiddhi

(vi) Investigating the epistemological structure of āgama

(vii) Epilogue

Appendix Manas and Jñānendriyas in Kashmir Śaivism



Prof Navjivan Rastogi’s Hindi Book – “abhinavagupta kā tantrāgamīya darśana”

Title: abhinavagupta kā tantrāgamīya darśana: itihāsa – sanskṛti – saundarya aur tattva-cintan Author: Navjivan Rastogi

Publisher: Viśvavidyālaya Prakāśana, Sāgara (Madhya Pradeśa). 2012. Price INR 1150

One of the worst trajectories of what is called ‘Indian philosophy’ is that it has been studied as a ‘thing of the past’. Contemporary philosophers like Daya Krishna have repeatedly emphasized this fact. ‘Indian philosophy’ 

Abhinavagupta ka Tantragamiya Darshan I (dragged)has been studied or understood more in terms of history rather than philosophy per se. What constitutes ‘philosophy’ in South Asia is another completely different question which deserves an exquisitely different platform for a candid discussion. The philosophy in South Asian context needs a closer scrutiny at the hands of ‘philosophers’ rather than the ‘historians of philosophy’. In other words we should learn about the past of philosophy in South Asia, understand it ‘today’, and then analyze and assess how and what can we contribute to it.

This is as true about the philosophy written in Sanskrit texts in South Asia, as it is about the philosophy written in Persian, Arabic, Kashmiri, Hindi-Urdu, Tamil, and other classical and vernacular languages. Is not the plethora of ideas those were born and developed in South Asia as a part of Islamic culture a component of Indian philosophy ? Those old-school scholars who believe that the Islamic, Christian and other cultures are foreign to Indian culture must shed their pseudo-garb of colonial interpretations of Indian philosophy. If we accept their theory then the Vedic philosophy too should be regarded as foreign to India like Islamic philosophy, because the composers of the Vedas also ‘invaded’ the indigenous people of India and imposed upon them the so called Vedic culture. Or, for instance, since Christianity arrived in South Asia much before Islam did – what about the ideas those developed as a part of Christian culture in South Asia ? This is as true in case of many other smaller religious cultures in South Asia as it is about the vast literatures produced in vernacular languages. Were, for instance, Kabir, Ghalib, Lal Ded, or the creative philosophers writing in South Indian languages not philosophers?

Here I will focus on the philosophy of India as discussed in the Sanskrit texts. One of the major reasons for studying ‘Indian philosophy’ as a ‘thing of the past’ is that the Sanskritists in India have studied this philosophy either mostly from philological point of view or simply as knowing about the facts listed in these systems. This, however, does not seem to be the case with the traditional paṇḍit scholarship, where in the majority of the cases as witnessed by me personally, since the tradition is understood as continuing and alive, there is an attempt to make the study of philosophy ‘as the thing of the present’. A critical reflection that evaluates this system engaging with contemporary thinking systems (by contemporary I do not necessarily mean Western philosophy alone) in the Indian sub-continent is what is needed. Is philosophy dead in contemporary South Asia? Are there no contemporary philosophical systems existing in South Asia and if at all there are, how have they evolved from the past and how are they engaging with the present. An attempt to answer such questions will help us in understanding the present of the philosophy in Sanskrit sources or what is sometimes misleadingly called ‘Indian philosophy’.

There were, nonetheless, a few exceptional scholars in the 20th century who besides having training in traditional learning were also equally good at modern scholarship. Professor Kanti Chandra Pandey was one such scholar who combined in himself an erudite philosopher and an informed historian. His remarkable work on Abhinavagupta is a testimony to this combined scholarship. His student Professor Navjivan Rastogi who has authored the book in question is another such rare Sanskrit scholar in whom one can see the reflection of his teacher. Rastogi’s book that is written in terse Hindi language (at least that is what I felt, but I may be wrong since Hindi is not my mother tongue) is a collection of various research papers he has written in his long scholarly career of about fourty-five years. The book is not strictly focusing on Abhinavagupta as Pandey’s work is, for instance, but nonetheless it is certainly addressing Abhinavagupta’s system in a very broader sense. Today, unfortunately, where we witness that the ‘critical’ Sanskrit scholarship is rare in India, this book is coming as a welcome-item.

Rastogi does not only have a remarkably deep sense of Abhinavan philosophy, but he also masters the matters of Kashmirian Śaiva traditions meticulously. He has reflected upon his understanding of Abhinava with an informed depth, and has thrown light on many aspects of Abhinavan research. Today, Abhinavan studies are progressing slowly, but critically. Students of Abhinavagupta all over the world are carefully looking at the scholarship being produced on him. He is easy to be loved, but difficult to be understood. Rastogi’s work is an erudite attempt to introduce and discuss some key features of Abhinavan studies. Abhinava is equally important for both the students of the Tāntirc literature and the poetic aesthetics. Rastogi, equally well versed in both these domains of Abhinavan epistemology, has discussed sections on both these topics in his book.

The book begins with a discussion on the relationship between the Vedic and the Āgamic discourse followed by a historical assessment of the Kashmirian Śaiva systems, evaluation of its philosophical ideas and an analysis of how the contemporary scholars like Gopinath Kaviraj and others were influenced by such systems of thought or vice versa.

As far as the stylistic features of the book are concerned, I think I should not hesitate from making some extremely important points. And these points should be understood as the criticism towards the publisher and not towards the author of the book. I say this because I also had a chance to have a look at the digital version of the press copy that Professor Rastogi had sent to the publishers. In his press copy Rastogi had put the elaborate notes and annotations as ‘footnotes’ and not as ‘end notes’. In my strong, but very candid opinion, I believe all those publishers who encourage the endnotes instead of footnotes, or compel the authors to do so in their books, should be completely abandoned. At least this should be done in Indological publications where we often have to use long notes and elaborate annotations and the publishers convert all these foot notes into end notes possibly because it deprives the main body of the book of its aesthetic looks. At least this is how an indological publisher justified himself while talking to me some years back. I am purposely emphasizing this point because as an indologist myself I am  aware of the deep pain I have to go through searching for all those notes in a book flipping and flapping back and forth just because a publisher (who presumably never has to use the book for scholarly purposes himself) chose an option that could please his eyes. This is completely unacceptable to me, and I request all other indologists not to encourage publishers who may persuade them to convert all the footnotes in their books into end notes. This has been a grave problem with the books published in many prestigious series also and this book also suffers from the same problem. Another minor problem is the font used for the titles of the chapters which instead of being clear and catchy is sometimes deluding to eyes. The publisher should take the serious note of such suggestions.

To conclude, I think, I am not at all a qualified person to review this book. However, I have done so at the request of Prof Rastogi himself. In Hindi, it is indeed rare to find such comprehensive essays of international quality on Kashmirian Śaiva philosophy. I will not try exploring for what reasons this book was written in Hindi, but I earnestly hope that Prof Rastogi’s works those he has chosen to write in Hindi, like this book, would also be translated into English in future. After all, how many people have studied Andre Padoux’s famous work “Vāc” in French, but several generations of the students of Kashmirian Śaiva systems have greatly benefited from its English translation. In the European context same is true about the theorists and philosophers like Foucault, Derrida, Kant, Sartre etc. This book should certainly become available in English.

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”).