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Janaki Bakhle: "Poetry as the Archive of the Popular"

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) was India’s most infamous revolutionary “terrorist,” dubbed an anarchist as a student by the British colonial police, a Hindu nationalist who penned the tract “Essentials of Hindutva” (1922) and is best known for his implication in the assassination of M.K. Gandhi.  Savarkar’s prose has been dissected for its’ fascist under and overtones, his political career has been examined as the foundation for “Hindu fundamentalism”, and of all the figures who populate the history of Indian nationalism he is by far the most hateful and therefore the one most reviled.Intellectual History of Religion, Politics and Modern India
Yet, what remains to be examined is his most intellectually rigorous work of which he was most proud and with which he most identified, namely, his poetry.  Difficult to understand because of the mixture of modern and archaic Marathi and Sanskrit that he used, it was the medium to which he turned to express the gamut of his emotional and political life.  As such it is a crucial archive.  In this seminar, I will propose the expansion of the boundaries of Indian intellectual history by using one of the three 17thcentury Marathi ballads (powadas) as a didactic text that recorded not just the basic facts of Maratha history but also as a primary document of peasant life focused on the centrality of food security.  In Savarkar’s resurrection and rewriting of the same powada at a cusp moment at the turn of the 20th century, we see the genre transformed beyond its original didactic function to awaken a slumbering masculine community into action and, more importantly, to install Chatrapati Shivaji as the only acceptable Hindu ruler for a nation that had yet to come into existence.
Janaki Bakle is an Associate Professor of History at UC Berkeley. 



Wednesday, October 15, 2014. 12:00PM


Encina Hall West, Room 208


Center for South Asia




Free and open to the public