ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Casting Brahmānanda: A ‘(Non)-Dominant (?)’ Cāraṇ Bard turned Devotional Poet’s Braj Bhāṣā Poetry in 19th-century Western India


Parikh Sahaj - University of California, Santa Barbara, Religious Studies, Santa Barbara, California, United States


29 – Travelling stories, bodies and genres and the making of communities


 In this paper, I seek answers to two mutually interdependent questions through textual and historical research. Both questions are related to the life and work of a 19th-century ascetic and bhakti poet Brahmānanda (1772-1832), who wrote no less than 8000 devotional poetries in languages as diverse as Gujarati, Marwari, Charani, Dingal, Kutchi, as well as Braj Bhāṣā and flourished in the western part of India. First question, what was the caste of this ascetic poet before he renounced the material world in 1804 and adopted an ascetic lifestyle? Was the caste that he belonged to a non-elite or a non-dominant one, as is the case with many of the bhakti poets, or vice versa? The second question of my inquiry is related to the language of Brahmānanda’s poetry. I ask why Brahmānanda, who hailed from the western part of India, lived and worked for most of his life in western India, and whose mother tongue was a western Indian dialect, wrote so much poetry in Braj Bhāṣā among other languages. Did a North Indian dialect of Hindi travel all the way to the Western parts of India? If they did, how and why, I ask and seek in this essay through a historical, textual, and literary analysis of both primary and secondary sources. In addition to contributing to the ongoing discourse of devotional literature in western India, this paper will be an addition to scholarships on intellectual history and, more broadly, to the history of religions in western India.