Crossing the Lines of Caste: Visvamitra and the Construction of Brahmin Power in Hindu Mythology

Paperback | May 13, 2015

byAdheesh A. Sathaye

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What does it mean to be a Brahmin, and what could it mean to become one? Over the years, intellectuals and dogmatists have offered plenty of answers to the first question, but the latter presents a cultural puzzle, since normative Brahminical ideology deems it impossible for an ordinaryindividual to change caste without first undergoing death and rebirth.There is, however, one notable figure in the Hindu mythological tradition who is said to have transformed himself from a king into a Brahmin by amassing great ascetic power, or tapas: the ornery sage Visvamitra. Through texts composed in Sanskrit and vernacular languages, oral performances, andvisual media, Crossing the Lines of Caste examines the rich mosaic of legends about Visvamitra found across the Hindu mythological tradition. It offers a comprehensive historical analysis of how the "storyworlds" conjured up through these various tellings have served to adapt, upgrade, and reinforcethe social identity of real-world Brahmin communities, from the ancient Vedic past up to the hypermodern present.Using a performance-centered approach to situate the production of the Visvamitra legends within specific historical contexts, Crossing the Lines of Caste reveals how and why mythological culture has played an active, dialogical role in the construction of Brahmin social power over the last threethousand years.

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What does it mean to be a Brahmin, and what could it mean to become one? Over the years, intellectuals and dogmatists have offered plenty of answers to the first question, but the latter presents a cultural puzzle, since normative Brahminical ideology deems it impossible for an ordinaryindividual to change caste without first undergoin...

Adheesh A. Sathaye (PhD, UC Berkeley, 2005) is an Associate Professor of Sanskrit Literature and South Asian Folklore at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. He writes on Hindu mythology, Sanskrit drama, story literature, and the broader connections between performance, textual production, and traditional culture in South Asi...
Format:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.68 inPublished:May 13, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199341117

ISBN - 13:9780199341115

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Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsAcknowledgmentsNote on TransliterationAbbreviationsAbout the Companion WebsiteIntroduction: Crossing the Lines of CasteFoundations1. Poet, Priest, and Prince: Glimpses of Visvamitra in Vedic Literature2. Genealogy of the Brahmin Other in the Sanskrit EpicsAdaptations3. Spinning the Brahmin Other in the Early Puranas4. Geo-Mapping the Brahmin Other in Regional Puranic LiteratureConfrontations5. Encountering the Brahmin Double in Medieval India6. Becoming a New Brahmin in Modern IndiaConclusions: Texts, Performances, and Hindu Mythological CultureCatalogue of Visvamitra LegendsBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

"This book makes us appreciate how fortunate we are to have reached a point where a single young author can show command of texts from multiple periods, genres, and South Asian languages to present an inside story that never stops retelling itself from the Rig Veda into modern times. For aclass, or for the general reader, I can think of no better introduction to the peccadillos of Hinduism." --Alf Hiltebeitel, Professor of Religion, George Washington University