The courtly vernacular: The transformation of Brajbhas[dotbelow]a literary culture (1590--1690)

Busch, Allison Renee

     This dissertation rethinks standard critical approaches to the Hindi riti tradition, a substantial corpus of Brajbhas[dotbelow]a courtly literature, by a close examination of the principal texts, literary practices, and persons who constituted it. Modern critics view riti literature as the product of a declining late-medieval culture. Its style and subjects and aesthetics are typically seen as tired relics from India's feudal past; the classicism that was central to this literary world has come to be constructed as evidence precisely of its decadence.
     The first two chapters of the dissertation explore how these postulates about riti literature owe their genesis to colonial and nationalist-period rhetoric. The chapters that follow develop a critique of the standard scholarly treatment of riti by re-examining the actual texts and contexts of Brajbhas[dotbelow]a court poets and commentators from a variety of angles. Chapter 3 looks in detail at the writings of Kesavdas (fl. 1600), focusing on his role as the founder of the riti tradition, and the complex intellectual and poetic strategies that were at play in his appropriation of Sanskrit literary modalities for the creation of a new vernacular style. Chapter 4 looks at the spread of rIti literary culture through its social networks, patronage contexts, and poetic and intellectual modes. Chapter 5 is devoted to a style of riti writing that has been almost wholly ignored by modern Hindi criticism: historical poetry. Contact with the Mughal imperium, it is suggested here, gave rise to a new historiographical impulse that generated a new poetry of regional politics in Brajbhas[dotbelow]a.
     This dissertation is above all concerned with suggesting a range of new perspectives for the study of riti literature. It operates from a location of profound respect for the pre-modern poets and intellectuals who produced the tradition and strives to understand its shape and logic from a viewpoint other than that of colonial modernity, which has until now dominated its critical reception.

Pollock, Sheldon