Research Articles

Here I provide links to some of my research papers and academic articles. If you know of any others that are available on the net please let me know by emailing admin at purushottamagrawal dot com


In Search of Ramanand – the guru of Kabir and others 

(This essay was written for a collection of essays to be put together in honour of David Lorenzen. A shorter version of this essay has appeared in the said collection-’From Ancient to Modern: Essays in honour of David Lorenzen’- Edited by Saurabh Dube and Ishita Banerjee-Dube; and published by the Oxford University Press)

The story of this essay goes back to the summer of 2000, when I published an article in the Hindi Journal Bahuvachan, analysing the legends of the Kabir-Ramanand relationship. In that article, granting the common assumption that Ramanand was born in 1299 CE and passed away in 1410, I tried to look at the legends surrounding this key figure in the religious history of north India sympathetically. David Lorenzen, while appreciating my treatment of the legends, disagreed vehemently with the dates of Ramanand that I assumed in that article. I continued to work and reflect upon the question of Ramanand’s floruit and his role in the Bhakti sensibility of north India.




Something will ring – translating Kabir and his ‘life’

“A translator is an artist on oath.”
-A.K. Ramanujan.

The translator’s challenge is to maintain duel fidelity, on one hand, to the world of the target language, and on the other to the specific characteristics of the source language and its culture. As a reader of a translation, I must be able to comprehend the work and appreciate its universal appeal, but again as a reader, I must be made conscious of the uniqueness of the translated work and its own world – that, precisely, is the task of the translator. A translator is indeed an artist on oath.

Going through many studies and most of the English translations of Kabir, the reference to ‘oath’ works in a rather strange way. It brings to mind, the typical practices of a law court. A lawyer is briefed to prove a certain case and is expected to produce the ‘useful’ evidences and, at the same time, to suppress or negate the evidences contrary to his/her brief. The success of the lawyer is not judged on the basis of the conclusion flowing from the facts of the case, but by his/her ability to prove a pre-decided conclusion by deft handling of witnesses and evidences.




Modernity and Public Sphere in Vernacular

I could not agree more with Satya Mohanty, when he says, in his 2012 interview,

that “Read through the lens of alternative modernities, literary texts open up new

historical archives and suggest tantalizing perspectives on a past we thought we

knew so well.“ He does know it well, having “read“ the 16th-century Odia

Lakshmi Purana “through the lens of alternative modernities.“1 He has rightly

observed elsewhere, “Crucial features of modernity can be disaggregated; they can

even be recombined in a number of different ways, shaped by differences in

sociocultural context. So, if we can find modern values and ideas articulated in

socioeconomic systems very different from eighteenth and nineteenth century

European capitalism, part of the challenge for us as scholars is to trace the

provenance of such values and ideas in the non-European contexts and to examine

the alternative institutions and cultural forms that supported them.


I came to the same realization through my study of Kabir (d. 1518 C.A.), a very

powerful and influential poet, whom colonial historiography had turned into an

“Indian Luther”, but one who had failed and had hence been marginalized. This

was a part of the larger exercise undertaken by colonial power and the colonial

episteme. The idea of India as a strange place with no “history“ (as we know it–

unfolding through conflicts, interrogations and negotiations) was invented, and

colonial literati were made to internalize it. This internalization was of course an

exercise in collaboration. This invented India was termed as “eternal“ in polite

idiom and “stagnant“ in the terms of academic historiography.

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