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Death is just a stopping point: Afterlife in South Asian loka and paraloka

Wednesday, 10:45-12:45, 405

 

Participants

 

Abstract

Recent decades have seen a number of valuable works on death and its various implications in South Asia. However, many aspects of this theme have not yet been explored. In our panel, notions of death and afterlife in paralok(a) (the other world) as explicated in classical texts and temple legends will be juxtaposed with ideas of death and afterlife as manifested by narratives, ritual practice and socio-political developments in lok(a) (this world).

 

Shivaji versus Afzal Khan: a killing reenacted

Shivaji, the great Maratha leader, killed Afzal Khan, a Bijapuri general, at the time of their diplomatic eye-to-eye meeting in 1659. Though the fight was hidden within a tent at the foot of the Pratapgad fort, every move of each person found its way into ballads, chronicles and historical studies. Altogether this act marked the beginning of a long narrative of Shivaji's heroic deeds which, eventually, paved a way to the foundation of the Maratha polity and its founder's enthronement. The event was also fossilized in a visual form known widely over Maharashtra and outside.

During the last decades this image has been reenacted for various socio-political ends in contemporary Maharashtra to become a pivotal part of the Marathi mindscape. It is the question of why a death that occurred 350 years earlier keeps on growing in importance for Maharashtrian self-imagination and self-expression that will be analyzed in this paper.

 

Heroic Death in Rajasthan: The Case of a Headless Warrior

Oral traditions of Rajasthan are rich with narratives of heroic and violent deaths of warriors. While traveling there one often comes across small memorial shrines of these heroes situated along roadsides, mountain trails, at the villages' outskirts and even within havelis – urban mansions of Rajput aristocracy. These shrines contain small stone images of deified warriors, fully armed and on horseback. In this presentation I propose to discuss a worship ritual of such images by Meenas (the largest scheduled tribe in Rajasthan) as I witnessed it in Shishawas village in Eastern Rajasthan, as well as the recorded oral narrative describing the heroic feat of one such warrior, who continued to fight even after he was beheaded. The presentation will be accompanied by a slide show.

 

'Killing Music': Performative Arts in the Service of Death

A traditional Hindu association between Death and performative art is the focus of this lecture. The purpose of my research is to try to clarify this familiar yet odd bond by examining various mythological texts in which it is reflected. The most prominent in this context is the Jaiminiya Brahmana 2.69-70, in which various performative arts are described as Death's army. Other texts, such as the story of King Yayati in the Mahabharata, express the same view in a more subtle manner. Yet the source of this connection remains a mystery – what is the reason for ascribing such 'dangerous' qualities to dance, music and drama? And moreover, why were these 'weapons of death' eventually absorbed into the religious ritual?

 

Mortality, memory and identity: Mārkaṇḍeya in the primordial waters

In the Mahābhārata, the immortal sage Mārkaṇḍeya relates the story of what happened to him during the previous pralaya, the destruction of the universe that takes place at the end of each cycle of eons. After all the creatures and the entire cosmos came to naught, he, the sole survivor, drifted on the endless ocean of primordial waters till he encountered Viṣṇu, the supreme being who creates and destroys the worlds at his play. Mārkaṇḍeya ascribes his everlasting longevity to the fact that by the grace of Viṣṇu, memory, smṛti, has not forsaken him. What then is the nature and content of Mārkaṇḍeya's death-defeating memory? What is the relation between memory and mortality? These questions will be dealt with in light of Vedic conceptions of water and the effects of emersion in it, and by comparison with Upaniṣadic descriptions of man's fate at death.

 

The Death of Death

The famous shrine of Tirukkataiyur or Tirukkatavur in the Tamil country is the site where Siva killed death. Siva is both Death/Time, Kala, and the Killer of Death/Time, Kalantaka. He won the latter title by killing Yama, the god of death, when the latter tried to take the life of the sixteen-year-old boy Markandeya—a well-known story brilliantly depicted in the Ellora carvings and an unusual development of the Markandeya materials that Tzahi Freedman is presenting. At Tirukkataiyur, following Death's untimely demise, Siva agreed to revive him in response to a plea by all the living creatures of the world. This presentation is thus also about the meaning and rationale of Death's rebirth.