South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Following the Nala-Damayantī story from the Sanskrit Nalopākhyāna to the Gujarati Dhirajākhyān

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Rudraksha, Lower Ground Floor

Nala and Damayantī are one of the most beloved couples of Indian literary and expressive traditions. Their story of love, separation, and eventual reunion appears in the Sanskrit Mahābhārata as an upākhyāna, a short story or an anecdote. However, when this marginal tale moves from its Sanskrit telling into its Gujarati retellings, it becomes central. The couple’s story expands. Gujarati poets fill in missing details that emphasize the couple’s successful passage through an extended period of physical and mental agony, and endurance of poverty, hunger, and separation from each other. Gujarati poets heighten the story’s didacticism for cultivation of sect-specific devotional sensibilities. Using as examples the 16th century poet Bhalan’s Nalākhyān (The Story of Nala) and the 19th century poet Nishkulanand’s Dhirajākhyān (The Story of Steadfastness), this paper will discuss the innovations that happen in the periphery. These Gujarati poets modified the genre of ākhyān to accommodate extra layers of instruction for religious use, and in turn gave the Sanskrit minor tale gravitas.


In following this movement of the Nala-Damayantī Story, this paper makes a case for the periphery as a dynamic space for creative innovations and cultural productions, while challenging the notion of center and mainstream as static entities with static identities. It argues that studying the exchanges within regional retellings allow us to map patterns of movement, where literature follows conventions and where it deviates from them to change the center that had inspired its production.

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2 - Following the Nala-Damayantī story from the Sanskrit Nalopākhyāna to the Gujarati Dhirajākhyān



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