ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

A Vedānta for the Vernacular: Palimpsests and Transcreations in the Dāsbodh


Maini Kartik - The University of Chicago, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, Chicago, United States


31 – The Forms, Genres and Languages of Early Modern Indian Philosophy


 Recent researches in Indian philosophy have complicated the nationalist resignification of Advaita Vedānta by drawing our attention to its scholastic flourishing in the early modern period. Such efforts often pass over vernacular expressions of philosophy, presenting a picture of flourishing that is at best partial. Taking Michael S. Allen’s idea of ‘Greater Advaita Vedānta’ (2017) as its touchstone, this paper examines the life and labours of Samarth Rāmdās (c. 1608-1681), a poet, philosopher, and ascetic from early modern Maharashtra. Rāmdās’ veritable magnum opus, Dāsbodh, situates itself in the tradition of Upaniṣadic exegesis, but with a distinctly vernacular twist. It spurns highfalutin scholasticism in favour of unmediated, visceral experience produced through a careful ethical cultivation of the self. This, for Rāmdās, is a necessarily worldly ascesis grounded in the humdrum of social, political, and everyday life, such that every mundane act – like writing – prepares the self for the experience of Vedāntic self-realization (ātmabodha). I read the Dāsbodh as a philosophical palimpsest, and closely follow Rāmdās’ “adaptive reuse” (Freschi & Maas, 2017) of high-brow Advaitic soteriology to serve the social and religious needs of various Marathi-speaking publics. I also examine the vast corpus of hymns, narrative literature, and hagiographies attributed to or based on Rāmdās, demonstrating how vernacular transcreations of Sanskrit knowledge move across genres.