Abstracts of papers

Divyaraj Amiya

University of Tuebingen, Germany and University of Zurich, Switzerland

Project Saath Saath: Preparing for the transition from the phase of printing press to the neo-oral phase of literature

Project Saath Saath at the University of Tuebingen is trying to establish a portal that will function as  an online research infrastructure of talking Urdu-Hindi literary archive, primarily of Urdu and Hindi literary journals, for scholars and students of modern South Asian history. How about going to a portal where you can click and listen to, if you can not read Devanagari or Perso-Arabic script, the essays by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1818-1873) or Bharatendu Harishchandra (1850-1885) published in the 19thcentury journals ? How about going to a website every six months to catch up with video reports on the most significant events, works, debates, news and reviews of Urdu and Hindi literary spheres? Do we need to establish and multiply similar institutions and networks to turn new technological developments into our advantage ? Or, to strive for close co-ordination of pre-existing institutions towards a common goal?


Jessica Vantine Birkenholtz

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

Svasthānī in Print: On a Newar Tradition Becoming a Nepali Tradition at the Printing Press

Nepal’s widely celebrated Svasthānīvratakathā (SVK) has an unbroken written history dating to the late sixteenth century. It was transmitted almost exclusively through handwritten manuscripts in the Classical Newar language until the early nineteenth century, when it was translated into the Nepali language. In the late nineteenth century the SVK first appeared in print. The text soon thereafter crystalized into the form most commonly known today, marking the end of the SVK’s extraordinary textual transformation between the eighteenth and early twentieth century that witnessed its growth from a short local legend told on eight palmleaf folios into a thirty-one chapter printed Purāṇa text spanning several hundred pages.

The advent of print and ensuing mass reproduction in the Nepali language marked a critical junction in the SVK’s dynamic history. This paper examines in particular two monumental transitions that occurred when the SVK was taken to the printing presses, namely, the shift from handwritten to printed text and from a nearly exclusively Newar text to a Nepali text, both in linguistic and cultural terms. I document the ways in which, first, the emergence of Nepali-language SVKs and then, second, their reproduction through the medium of print both altered the structure, style, recitation, circulation, and audience of the Svasthānī textual tradition in ways that differed appreciably from their Newar-language predecessors. I argue that these developments in many ways exemplify the history of Nepal’s print culture and its impact on both Newar- and Nepali-language literature.


Alaka Chudal

University of Vienna, Austria

Oral Transmission of Vetālapañcaviṃśati to Europe

The vampire riddle-tales, known as the Vetāla-pa͂ncaviṃśati or ‘The Twenty-Five Tales of an Animated Corpse’, are believed to have originated within the narrative tradition of Sanskrit. The four major Sanskrit versions are likely to have been composed in the early- to mid-second millennium. These tales were a massive success in Medieval India and also had been told in Jaina and Buddhist story literature. The version of Śivadasa (c. 1200s) was the most popular among them. We also find that this particular version was translated into Braj Bhasha by Surati Mishra under the title Baitāl Pacīsī (c. 1766) and that was later translated into Hindi by Lallu Ji Lal (1763-1825) under the same title in 1799 at Fort William College, Calcutta for use in language courses for East India Company staff officers. In 1916 Sir George Abraham Grierson included the introductory chapter—the frame story—from the Nepali version (Baitāl Pachīsī) as a text example (of Khas-kura or Naipalī). The first printed Nepali version of the Baitāl Pacīsī was produced in Varanasi, but the printed books do not carry the year of publication. Some sources indicate its composition year was sometimes in 1881-82. Theodore Riccardi Jr. (1971) published a Nepali version of the Vetāla-pa͂ncaviṃśati with an introduction, grammar, and notes on the text together with an English translation of a manuscript originally written in Sanskrit and Nepali, whose date and translator are again left unmentioned.

In the light of the foregoing, this article will approach two voice recordings of one of these 25 stories of Vetāla-pa͂ncaviṃśati by two different POWs of the WW1 Ait Singh Gurung and Dal Bahadur Gharti in the prisoner camp Halbmondlager in Germany by the Royal Prussian Phonographic Commission in 1916. To start with, we should ask how Ait Singh and Dhan Bahadur knew the story. Or were they merely saying or reciting what the German scholars asked or ordered them to? Did they have full freedom of agency in the production of the recordings? What can we understand from these recordings? Why did they choose the particular story as opposed to something else? What does the content of the story tell us, not only from a linguistic perspective but also as literary source material? How did they know the story? What are the differences and similarities between the stories two POWs recite? Are there any links to the original/earlier Sanskrit or Nepali versions of it? What do the changes in the stories tell us? This paper seeks to address these questions. It will further demonstrate the distinction between orality and writing or between elite literary culture and folk tradition.


Martin Gaenszle

University of Vienna, Austria

The Limbu Script and the Production of Religious Books in Nepal

With the rise of ethnic politics the Limbu (Yakthumba) of Nepal have made increasing use of the so-called Srijanga script. Whereas previously this was only known to a minority, after the return of democracy in the 1990s a new literature has come into being which above all includes religious books.

The paper deals first with the history of the script since the first propagation by Iman Singh Chemjong and Phalgunanda Lingden. It further focuses on the production of printed Mundhum books, such as the publications by Bairagi Kainla (a writer and scholar) and the books by the followers of Atmananda in Larumba (who stands for a thoroughly reformed Kiranti religion). Whereas the former closely follow and document the oral tradition, the latter emphasise the standardisation and canonisation of a textual corpus, which is regarded as “true” tradition. Thus the introduction of a writing system, assisted by the use of standard Unicode fonts, is currently in the process of transforming a religious culture, which until the 1990s was seen (at least by outsiders) as a part of Hinduism but now has developed a distinct identity of its own.

Alessandro Graheli

Austrian Academy of Sciences and University of Vienna, Austria

Hermeneutics of Devanāgarī in the Digital Era

While studying an ancient work, the modern interpreter and editor uses the digital technology to produce a new text which, just like texts of the pre-digital era, has analogous purposes of storage, retrieval, interpretation, and dissemination of ideas. Furthermore, any new edition unavoidably distances itself from the previous versions and becomes a new event in the history of the transmission of the text, a new descendant in its genealogical tree, just like its ancestors. Hence, the digital scholar is called by this history of effects to a role of responsibility, which is primarily based on an awareness of the historical peculiarities of manuscripts, printed editions, and digital editions. The choice of the script certainly is one of the most crucial and impactful ones an editor needs to undertake.

In this paper I will focus on the case of the transmission of the Nyāyamañjarī, an influential treatise on epistemology and logic written by Bhaṭṭa Jayanta in Kashmir at the end of the ninth century. Historically, this work has been represented in a variety of Indic scripts such as Śāradā, Grantha, and varieties of Nāgarī, later uniformed into Devanāgarī after the advent of the press, and in the last decades processed through either Roman or Devanāgarī characters. After sketching a history of the script in the Nyāyamañjarī transmission from Jayanta’s days to the present ones, I intend to specifically address the advantages and disadvantages in the use of Devanāgarī fonts, in terms of the reconstruction of the sources, readability of the text, dissemination of the information, and, most importantly, hermeneutic potentiality.


Hans Harder

Heidelberg University

Webzines from Bangladesh: The Migration of the Literary Magazine from Print to Digital Formats

In this paper, I will attempt to give an introduction to Bengali webzines. All major Bengali newspapers have online editions these days, but rather than on these I will focus on more small-scale, community-oriented online magazines that have in the last 15 years been evolving out of the extremely rich scene of Bengali little magazines.

After looking at the editorial self-positioning of these webzines, I will present and discuss three particular cases: Bengali climate fiction in “Kalpabiswa”, epitaphs of deceased cult author Nabarun Bhattacharya in “Lal jiper diary”, and translated haikus in “Sahitya Café”. In conclusion, I will summarize my findings and comment on some media-specific developments in webzine literature.

Ulrich Timme Kragh

Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland

Inscribed Author and Ascribed Author in Sanskrit Manuscript and Print

Among the many changes in text production and text use caused by the introduction of printing technology into India in the late eighteenth century, one of the very significant modifications of the Sanskrit tradition was the novel emphasis on the figure of the author. The paper will explore the subtle presence of the author in the older Sanskrit textual and manuscript tradition, wherein the author appears equally as an inscribed function of the text as well as an extra-textual ascription in a balanced manner. In contrast, the paper will demonstrate how new printed editions of Sanskrit texts brought the ascribed author into a much more centralized role. The ascribed author is essentially a paratextual function of text copying and bibliography. Yet, the modern Indian practice of bibliography really first appeared with the introduction of printing, which consequently led to an anachronistic scholarly puzzlement over the pre-modern Indian absence of the author.


Borayin Larios

University of Heidelberg / CNRS-CEIAS Paris, Germany and France

Bhagavān Vedaḥ – From Orality to Bibliolatry

This paper will discuss the first ever Indian compilation of the four Vedic Saṃhitās into a printed book in the year 1971 entitled “Bhagavān Vedaḥ.” This endeavor was the life’s mission of an Udāsīn ascetic called Guru Gaṅgeśvarānand Mahārāj (1881-1992) who in the year 1968 founded the “Gangeshwar Chaturved Sansthan” in Bombay and appointed one of his main disciples, Svāmī Ānand Bhāskarānand to oversee the publication of the book. His main motivation was to have a physical representation of the Vedas for Hindus to be able to have the darśana (auspicious sight) of the Vedas and worship them in book form. This paper will look at the role of traditional paṇḍitas in the editorial process and zoom into the processes that allowed for the transition from orality to print culture, and ultimately what it means when the Vedas are refashioned into “the book of the Hindus.”


Ulrike Stark

University of Chicago, USA

Bookish Transactions in the Countryside: Missionary Print in Nineteenth-century Rural India

Coinciding with the rise of Protestant missionary activity, the spread of print technology in nineteenth-century South Asia introduced the cheap, mass-produced book in Indian languages and led to a boom in religious print. Despite the considerable body of work on Christian missionaries’ pioneering role in vernacular printing and their extensive use of print in the evangelical enterprise, little attention has been paid to the impact of Christian tracts in the low-literacy environment of rural India. This talk explores how missionaries used the printed tract as both an object of transaction and a tool of conversion in their encounters with prospective converts in the Indian countryside. In tracing the shifting status of the tract from gift to purchasable object, I outline the challenges of the missionary print enterprise, while drawing attention to the material dimensions of the book. What changes in format, typography, and graphic design did the effort to make tracts attractive to rural audiences entail?


A.R. Venkatachalapathy

Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, India

Competition and Collaboration in Nineteenth-Century Tamil Textual Culture: The Editorial Lives of C.W. Damodaram Pillai and U.V. Swaminatha Iyer

C.W. Damodaram Pillai (1832–1901) and U.V. Swaminatha Iyer (1855–1942), iconic Tamil literary scholars, edited and published nearly all the major ancient literary Tamil works. By scouring the libraries of religious monasteries and the private collections of traditional scholars all over the Tamil country, they retrieved texts known barely by their names. New to an emerging print culture, they adopted new methods of editorial evaluation and textual criticism to arrive at reliable texts, and published them.

These two scholars led contrasting lives. Though Damodaram Pillai lived for some 68 years he died by the time print culture had entrenched itself. The first graduate of Madras University, he converted to Saivism after being a Christian. As a successful official, he led a secure life that straddled the colonial government and Saiva monasteries. A generation younger to Damodaram Pillai, Swaminatha Iyer lived long enough to see the expansion of a modern Tamil literary culture. A devout Brahmin, he never saw the inside of a modern school until he began to teach in Kumbakonam College. Despite the honours he won in his life, he was dependent on patronage, on religious monasteries and the colonial state. The lives of these contrasting personalities intersected at crucial points that was marked by competition and conflict, cooperation and collaboration.

Through the prism of a newly unearthed archive of correspondence, this paper explores late nineteenth-century Tamil textual culture and its transition from manuscript to print.