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From Hagiographies to Biographies: Ramanuja in Tradition and History

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Item Code: NAL445
Author: Ranjeeta Dutta
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9780198092292
Pages: 262
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 430 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

The image of an individual is usually a result of accretions of motifs in history. However, most modern biographies crucial for popularizing Ramanuja have overlooked this fact. Emphasizing the dialogic interaction between the hagiographies and biographies, this study argues that the two cannot always be understood merely within the binaries of the sacred and the secular.

Based upon a range of historical sources, the book delineates various moments of interactions in history when the notion of a remembered past and the historical memories through which the past would become a received tradition were being configured.

About the author

Ranjeeta Dutta teaches at the Department of History and Culture, Jamia Milla Islamia, New Delhi, and was a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, from 2009to2011.


The collective memory of a community grows through a process that selectively archives what it considers the most important elements of its historical or believed past. This archiving of information about a person, event, or an experience is not a one-time act. On the contrary, it is an ongoing practice that requires social memories to be periodically recalled and rejuvenated. Such acts of recall and rejuvenation occur at different points of time in a society’s history and each such act introduces new elements. The sheer passage of time, the force of circumstances and, not the least, the aspirations of a changing community coalesce to transform older memories so as to make them useful for a different purpose. Even as collective memories seek legitimacy through the pretence of being truthful registers of the past, they are, even more importantly, a means of creating an appropriate past that complements contemporary objective. Remembering is a selective procedure. In the life of communities, it is one where choices are made by each succeeding generation at significant historical junctures. This results in a layering of memories that blend and permeate into each other and are almost impossible to peel apart. Belief and history, thus merged, pose an enormous challenge to historians who despite the recent theoretical expansions that have occurred in the discipline are still expected to engage in reasonably sound empirical research.

This book traces the trajectory of several long-term trends that enable us to situate Ramanuja within the Srivaisnava community as well as in the empirical historical situation. Early hagiographies initially represented the identity of Ramanuja in several different ways, yet, elements of continuity in these hagiographies enabled his community of followers to further create a distinct identity for itself. A close connection existed between the perceived actions of Ramanuja, his image as an acarya, and the manner in which Srivaisnava beliefs came to projected. The significance and contribution of the historical context within which all this happened has been perceptively elaborated by the author. Hagiographers and biographers-whatever the case may be-were nurtured by the particular milieu in which they lived and worked and this resulted in their divergence of perspectives. Some central questions, such as the one attempting to deal with the reality of social hierarchies, were indeed common to both genres. They transgressed the limitations by the existential conditions of the authors and forged a bond between narratives produced during different historical periods. Nevertheless, the diversity both in hagiographical and biographical works persisted. In short, the core academic concern of the author is to elucidate interplay between religious convictions, social processes, and historical situations, and reveal how this contributed to the processes of writing about, and representing, Ramanuja to his followers and those beyond.

It is always a matter of great satisfaction to see research supported by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study appear in the form of an important publication. I am inclined to believe that book by Ranjeeta Dutta is the result not simply of financial support extended by the Institute, but also of the Institute, but also of the environment of fellowship and constructive debate that it creates for scholars in residence.









Encountering Ramanuja:



Some Preliminaries



Texts, Tradition, and the Srivaisnava Community



Texts, Contexts, and the Srivaisnava Community



Ramanuja as an Acarya



Devotion and Dissent: Ramanuja as a ‘Social Reformer’



From Hagiographies to Biographies: Some Concluding Remarks









About the Author



Sample Pages

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