Lehrstuhl für Indologie

Humboldt Fellow 2011

"Oral literature of Pastoralists in Maharashtra"

Anne Feldhaus

Humbold Postdoctoral Fellow

Pastoralist traditions are extraordinarily important to the social, economic, political, and cultural life of the sizeable area called Maharashtra. The dry wilderness that covers most of not only Maharashtra but also the rest of the Deccan Plateau makes this large part of India well-suited for pastoralism. Modern scholarship on the religious culture of Maharashtra traces many elements of contemporary ritual, belief, and iconography to the traditions of pastoralists, especially shepherds. Still today, more than half the population of Maharashtra, and 70% of that of India as a whole, lives in rural or semi-rural areas, and most of those who live in cities still have important ties to some rural village or town. In the 1960’s and 1970’s this was all the more the case.

Realizing the value of oral traditions for understanding much of the culture of the rural population and therefore of India more generally, Professor Dr. Günther Sontheimer (Südasien-Institut, Uni. Heidelberg) and his assistants set to work recording and transcribing a sizeable collection of oral narratives and songs. Sontheimer published translations of a few of the oral texts that he and his assistants had collected, and he used some of the texts in his other writings. But in 1992, Sontheimer died suddenly, at an early age. He had not had time to publish his collection more fully, to make adequate use of it in his scholarly work, or even to organize it so that it could be conveniently used.

In the weeks and months after Sontheimer’s death, his two principal research assistants and I began listening to the recordings that he and they had collected. Eventually, the three of us made a selection of the Marathi oral texts, corrected and recorrected their transcriptions, annotated the texts, and wrote a brief introduction in Marathi. The results of our work were published in Marathi in 2006). My current project is to publish polished English translations of the two longest, most elaborate texts in this Marathi volume, and to write an extensive introduction to this type of literature, the people who produce it, and the world that is presupposed by (and thus revealed through) the texts.

Personal Data

Anne Feldhaus received her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 1976. A Foundation Professor of Religious Studies at Arizona State University, she has published a number of books on the religious history and religious geography of Maharashtra. Her principal works include The Deeds of God in Ṛddhipur (1984), Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra (1995), and Connected Places: Region, Pilgrimage, and Geographical Imagination in India. She is co-editor, with S. G. Tulpule, of A Dictionary of Old Marathi (2000). Professor Feldhaus was a Humboldt-Stipendiatin at the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg in 1989-1990.

Humboldt Fellow 2010

"Unjust battle: different critical voices on the Vāli-vadha episode in the Jaina Rāmāyaṇas"

Eva De Clercq

Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow

Despite the fact that Rāma, the protagonist of one of India's most popular stories, is considered the perfect man, his behavior in the "authoritative" tellings of the story, most notably the classical Sanskrit epic Rāmāyaṇa, is not always beyond criticism. One such critical episode in the epic is the one where Rāma shoots Vālin, the estranged brother of his ally, the monkey king Sugrāva, in the back, while standing behind a tree.

The Jainas composed their own versions of the Rāma legend, conform to Jaina ideology, in which they heavily criticize these "authoritative" tellings. Strikingly, the Jainas are not united regarding their criticisms. With regard to the Vāli-vadha episode, describing the death of Vālin, different authors came up with at least three different Jaina solutions to the problematics of the "authoritative" version.

This in-depth study of the Jaina Vāli-vadha episodes seeks to uncover the different ethical principles behind these diverging Jaina accounts. The findings are interpreted against the theoretical frame of "authoritative" versus "oppositional" Rāmāyaõas, on the one hand, and against the broader Jaina tradition of polemicizing "Hindu" popular beliefs, on the other.

Personal Data

After completing her MA in Indology in 1998, Eva De Clercq worked as a PhD fellow (funded by the BOF) at the University of Ghent (Belgium), defending her doctoral thesis "A Critical Study of Svayambhādeva's Paumacariu" in 2003. Since then she has worked as a guest professor in Ghent, and as a postdoctoral fellow in Ghent and in the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. In 2009 she joined the University of Wuerzburg as a postdoctoral fellow, funded by the Humboldt Foundation.


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