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Lover, Magician, and Son of the Avatara

by (author) Christopher Austin

Oxford University Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2019
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2019
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This book provides the first full-scale English-language study of Pradyumna, the son of the Hindu god Krsna. Often represented as a young man in mid-adolescence, Pradyumna is both a handsome double of his demon-slaying father and the rebirth of Kamadeva, the God of Love. Sanskrit epic, puranic, and kavya narratives of the 300-1300 CE period celebrate Pradyumna's sexual potency, mastery of illusory subterfuges, and military prowess in supporting the work of his avatara father. These materials reflect the values of an evolving Brahminical and Vaisnava tradition that was deeply invested in the imperatives of family, patrilines, the violent but necessary defense of the social and cosmic order, and the celebration of beauty and desire as a means to the divine. Pradyumna's evolving narratives, almost completely absent from existing studies of Hindu mythology, provide a point of access to the development of Krsna bhakti and Vaisnava theism more broadly. Conversely, Jain sources cast Pradyumna as an exemplary figure through whom a pointed rejection of these values can be articulated, even while sharing certain of their elementary premises.

Pradyumna: Lover, Magician, and Scion of the Avatara assembles these narratives, presents key Sanskrit materials in translation and summary form, and articulates the social, gender, and religious values encoded in them. Most importantly, the study argues that Pradyumna's signature two-handed maneuver - the audacious appropriation of a feminine partner, enabled by the emasculating destruction of her demonic male protector - communicates a persistent fantasy of male power expressed in the language of a mutually implicating sex and violence.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Christopher R. Austin completed his BA and MA degrees in Religious Studies at Concordia University in Montreal and PhD at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He is presently Associate Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Classics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he teaches widely across all major religious traditions of South and East Asia, as well as Sanskrit and South Asian History. His principal areas of research are in the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata and particularly its supplement the Harivamsa, the biographical traditions of Krishna's life and his son Pradyumna, and early Vaisnavism.

Editorial Reviews

"This is a beautiful book on the mythology of K???a, written from the point of view of Pradyumna, K???a's oft neglected son. In stories from classical India that have rarely been studied, Pradyumna focuses on the dimension of desire or kama, providing a rich understanding of masculinity, femininity and sexuality in general."

--Andre Couture, Professor Emeritus, Faculte de theeologie et de sciences religieuses, Universite Laval

"The Sanskrit archive isAan inexhaustible mine of treasures, but we need outstanding scholarship to bring these treasures to light. Christopher Austin has crafted a multi-dimensional biography of Pradyumna, a fascinating but little-known character glimpsed in many sources. The author's frame-questions of power and desire, divinity and humanity have implications that reach far beyond the texts, and even have something to tell us about ourselves. An outstanding book."

--McComas Taylor, author of Seven Days of Nectar: Contemporary Oral Performance of the Bhagavatapura?a

"In his seamless combination of close textual study and gender analysis, Austin has given us an outstanding methodological blueprint for studying early Indic texts. Drawing from archeological and early textual sources, he convincingly demonstrates that the narratives of Pradyumna articulate ways to resolve 'deep-seated anxieties and conflicts attending the sexual maturation of males.' A fascinating and informative read, Austin's study is a must for scholars of the Indian epic, literary, and religious traditions."

--Sally J. Sutherland Goldman, Senior Lecturer in Sanskrit, University of California at Berkeley