Narrating Devotion: Representation and Prescriptions of the Early Kannada Sivabhakti Tradition according to Harihara's Sivasaranara Ragalegalu Open Access

Ben-Herut, Gil (2013)

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In this dissertation, I reconstruct the early cultural history of what is known today as Virasaivism or Lingayatism by reading the Sivasaranara Ragalegalu, a collection of hagiographies composed in the Kannada language in the early thirteenth century. This vast collection of short to middle length poems, each dedicated to the fantastic life of a Siva devotee, produces the first narrative account about the Saiva devotional tradition from the Kannada-speaking regions. Despite its significant role in shaping medieval Kannada literary practices and later representations of this religious movement, this text was never previously studied by Western academia.

By analyzing literary and religious aspects of the Sivasaranara Ragalegalu, I examine the function of narrative for an emerging religious movement. I argue that this text should be understood in its context, as part of a rich oral culture collectively performed by devotees. Focusing on the first literary moment of a religious tradition's narrativization, I offer new perspectives for understanding representations of sainthood as a tool for inculcating communal practices and communicating nascent forms of theology, social and political attitudes, and devotional prescriptions. Contrary to dominant conceptions, I claim that this religious tradition, during its early phases, was highly inclusive in terms of worship practices and social appeal, as attested by the absence of confining linguistic signifiers such as virasaiva or lingayata from this text.

There are two parts to this dissertation. In the first part, dedicated to the literary context of the Sivasaranara Ragalegalu, I look at this text's unconventional literary form as central to its meaning. In the second part of the dissertation, I explore various religious attitudes prescribed in the Sivasaranara Ragalegalu, with relation to the "devotee's relationship with the god, fellow devotees, and religious "others" of various orders: the king, the Brahmin priest, and the Jain opponent. My dissertation employs various strategies in order to provide new models for understanding the relationship between literary representation and the nascent religious community in which it is produced.

Table of Contents

Introduction 5


1 Narrative Sivabhakti Traditions in the Early Second-Millennium Kannada-Speaking Regions 31

2 Harihara's Life in History and Tradition 68

3 The Poetics of Devotion 95

4 The Ragalegalu and Kannada Literary History 128


5 The Sarana's Interiority 159

6 Complicating Equality 190

7 Experience and Ritual 236

8 Court, Kings, and Brahmins 286

9 Ragales about Jains 338

Concluding Thoughts 387

Bibliography 397

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