ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Popular Scholastic: Philosophical Translation and the Early Modern Bhagavad Gītā


Ravishankar Akshara - University of Chicago, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, Chicago, United States


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


 In the early eighteenth-century Bikaner court, an official named Nājar Ānandrām wrote a text called the Paramānanda Prabodha, a commentary or ṭīkā on the Bhagavad Gītā in early Hindi. The text comprises both prose and verse, and explicitly draws from the influential fourteenth-century Sanskrit commentary, the Subodhinī, by Śrīdhara Svāmin. While little is known about the author and the precise circumstances of this text’s production, it circulated remarkably widely, and went on to be attributed to multiple authors at various times.

This paper examines the complex relationship of the Paramānanda Prabodha to the Subodhinī, in order to ask – what protocols were used by the author of the Hindi work to render the earlier Sanskrit commentary comprehensible to the new audiences that vernacular commentaries were now addressing? I ask how the Gītā’s commentarial history might impact and feed into histories of its canonization, and further explore what this means for histories of translation practices in the early modern period, with a focus on philosophical translation. I argue that, while studies of translation in South Asia have focused a great deal on the translation of literary texts, the work of Nājar Ānandrām, and of other writers like him, can be more clearly understood through the lens of practices of philosophical translation, taking multilingualism and translation practices as fundamental features of philosophical writing in South Asia and beyond.