Regimes of pleasure in early India: A genealogy of practice at the Cola Court

Author: 
Ali, Daud
Year: 
1996

     Courtly practice was integral to the activities which constituted "politics" in pre-bourgeois political formations. The courts of ancient and medieval India are no exception here, but have typically been rejected as irrational deformations of a nineteenth-century political rationality. The dissertation treats the evolution of courtly practices from early historical to early medieval India, not under the bourgeois rubrics of leisure or sexuality, but instead under the notion of "pleasure." The first great courtly formulation, evident in texts like the Kamasutra and early courtly poetry, broke with older Vedic notions of agonisitic consumption and established a highly nuanced notion of pleasure as artifice that was at the same time closely articulated with Buddhist philosophy and practice. The concerns of both courtly comportment and Buddhist monastic discipline were centered around the engagement with and manipulation of surface and artifice (perceived by Buddhists as phenomenal reality). With the rise of the Guptas, however, these courtly modes became increasingly taken up in intimate ways--liturgically, philosophically, and politically--by the newly emergent orders of Saivism and Vaisnavism. The medieval temple was structured in exact homology with the royal court. The dissertation examines this reformulation as it took place under the imperial Colas (c. 950-1250 AD), who affiliated themselves with Saiva Siddhanta, through a reading of two twelfth-century Tamil poems composed at their court, the and Vikkirmacolanula and the Kalinkattupparani. The Vikkirmacolanula, like much medieval courtly poetry, appropriates the structures of the earlier erotic poetry that had flourished at the courts of early historical polities and transforms these structures into a highly charged political language asserting the ontological connection of the king and Visnu through the relation of lover and beloved. The Kalinkattupparani, on the other hand, depicts a gruesome battlefield, an image seemingly inimical to courtly comportment. Medieval theist orders had repositioned elements of the earlier Vedic sacrificial economy, through critique, hypertrophy and humor, to places and moments of death, that, while crucial for medieval political sovereignty itself, posed itself as a negative complement to the refinements of courtly life. This negativity was nevertheless folded back into the courtly world by a comic similitude.

Advisor(s): 
Inden, Ronald B.
Department: