Three Bhakti Voices

Three Bhakti Voices

Product ID: 14962

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Author: John Stratton Hawley
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2012
Language: multilingual
Pages: 439
ISBN/UPC (if available): 0198085397


The landscape of North Indian religion was dramatically transformed in the 15th and 16th centuries by a remarkable family of poet-saints. Among the most famous and beloved of these figures-in India and throughout the world-are Mirabai, Surdas, and Kabir. In this book, John Stratton Hawley takes a probing look at all three, finding that many of the beliefs and legends surrounding them-even central motifs-emerged long after their deaths.

Analyzing the oldest manuscripts in libraries and collections across North India, Hawley describes how these poets were heard and perceived in their own day. The results of this exploration are quite startling. Surdas was probably not blind until very late in life and he was never a pupil of Vallabhacharya. The flinty Kabir was early on celebrated as a poet of Krishna. And poems that would tie Mirabai to her own century do not seem to exist.

Who then are these great bhakti poets? Hawley shows that to a surprising degree they are creations of those who have loved them through the centuries. Weaving in some sixty-five English verse translations, most of them based on early manuscripts, Hawley tells this fascinating story of change and transmission.

Three Bhakti Voices brings together more than two decades of scholarly work. A number of chapters are new, while others situate previously published essays in a context designed to draw out the connections between Mira, Sur, and Kabir. Hawley begins the volume with a section on The Bhakti Poet-Saint' that ranges over the literature of North Indian bhakti as a whole. He ends with a meditation on what bhakti studies like this mean in the world today.

This book will appeal to anyone interested in bhakti or in the history of how major North Indian cultural motifs and institutions evolve. It is also relevant to the comparative study of saints and exemplars. Students of Hinduism, Indian and Asian religions, and Indian history will find this volume engaging.


Among all the contemporary Western scholars of Hindi language and literature, John Statton Hawley occupies a special place as the pre-eminent bhakta of the bhakti poets, both as a fine and lively translator and as an acute and sympathetic interpreter. I value him even more, however, for his extensive competence in both the Indian and the Western modes of approaching an Indian literature, and for his candid problematization of the great gap between the two modes. This is the concern writ large in this book, and this is what makes it an especially worthwhile contribution to Indian literary studies.
-Harish Trivedi, Professor of English, University of Delhi

This carefully sequenced series of essays shows what can be achieved when expertise in textual history is paired with a sympathetic reading of primary texts themselves. Jack Hawley's forensic analysis of the processes through which devotional works are transmitted seeks not to undermine the status by showing how they have grown in the telling, but rather to explain the phenomenon of their popular appeal, the result is a thoroughly engaging study of Sur, Mira, Kabir, and many other stars of the devotional firmament. This book will rapidly earn a place alongside Hawley's Songs of the Saints of India as an authoritative history of devotional literature of the late medieval period.
-Rupert Snell, Department of the Languages and Cultues of South Asia, SOAS

Hawley's style has a flair of its own. Involved yet objective, nuanced yet lucid, he writes with a rare mix of emotion and detachment. His very find sense of humour makes reading this book a pleasure.
-Purushottam Agrawal, Professor, Centre of Indian Languages, Jawaharlal Nehru University








Author and Authority
Morality beyond Morality
The Nirgun/Sagun Distinction

Mirabai in Manuscript
Mirabai as Wife and Yogi
The Saints Subdued in Amar Chitra Katha
Krishna and the Gender of Longing

Last Seen with Akbar
The Early Sursagar and the Growth of the Sur Tradition
The Verbal Icon-How Literal?
Sur’s Sadama
Creative Enumeration in Sur s Vinaya Poetry
Why Surdas Went Blind

The Received Kabir: Beginnings to Bly
Kabir in His Oldest Dated Manuscript
Vinaya Crossovers: Kabir and Sur
Bhakti, Democracy, and the Study of Religion