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Poetry as Prayer in the Sanskrit Hymns of Kashmir

by (author) Hamsa Stainton

Oxford University Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2019
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2019
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Historically, Kashmir was one of the most dynamic and influential centers of Sanskrit learning and literary production in South Asia. In Poetry as Prayer in the Sanskrit Hymns of Kashmir, Hamsa Stainton investigates the close connection between poetry and prayer in South Asia by studying the history of Sanskrit hymns of praise (stotras) in Kashmir. The book provides a broad introduction to the history and general features of the stotra genre, and charts the course of these literary hymns in Kashmir from the ninth century to the present. In particular, it offers the first study in any European language of the Stutikusumanjali, a major work of religious literature dedicated to the god Siva and one of the only extant witnesses to the trajectory of Sanskrit literary culture in fourteenth-century Kashmir.

The book also contributes to the study of Saivism by examining the ways that Saiva poets have integrated the traditions of Sanskrit literature and poetics, theology (especially non-dualism), and Saiva worship and devotion. It argues for the diverse configurations of Saiva bhakti expressed and explored in these literary hymns and the challenges they present for standard interpretations of Hindu bhakti. More broadly, this study of stotras from Kashmir offers new perspectives on the history and vitality of prayer in South Asia and its complex relationships to poetry and poetics.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Hamsa Stainton is Assistant Professor in the School of Religious Studies at McGill University. He studied South Asian religions at Columbia University (Ph.D., 2013), Harvard Divinity School (M.T.S., 2007), and Cornell University (B.A., 2004). His co-edited volume (with Bettina Sharada Baumer), Tantrapuspanjali: Tantric Traditions and Philosophy of Kashmir; Studies in Memory of Pandit H.N. Chakravarty, was published in 2018 by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Editorial Reviews

"In this masterful book, Hamsa Stainton trains his eye on a brilliant jewel in the crown of Hindu literary and performance traditions-the stotra, a short poem of prayer and praise. Prominent for centuries and throughout all of India, and an important bridge between Sanskrit and many vernaculars, the stotra has nonetheless remained a puzzle to critics precisely because it is so versatile, so many-faceted. Stainton brings this jewel center-stage, burnishing it with English verse translations that glow."

--Jack Stratton Hawley, author of A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement

"Stainton presents a stunning panorama of 1200 years of religious poetry in Kashmir, one of India's greatest centers of letters and thought. These stotras are often breathtakingly complex and showcase intricate theologies, immense personal devotion, and also rich and evolving aesthetic ideals. No bookshelf dedicated to religion and literature in South Asia will be complete without Poetry as Prayer."

--Yigal Bronner, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"This is a truly ground-breaking work of scholarship on the stotra literature of Kashmir. With clear translations and insightful readings throughout, Stainton vividly demonstrates the importance of Sanskrit as a language of bhakti or devotion. This volume also offers a welcome troubling of the sharp scholarly divide between courtly poetry (kavya) and religious literature, and makes a compelling argument for the value of 'prayer' as a cross-cultural category of analysis."

--Anne Monius, Professor of South Asian Religions, Harvard Divinity School