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Lehrstuhl für Indologie

The Story of King Yaśōdhara in the Religious and Cultural Environment of Karnāṭaka

This project, funded by the German Research Foundation, focusses on the Yaśōdharacarite (“The Story of [King] Yaśōdhara”) of Janna - a key text in Kanarese literature, created during a time of transition in Karnāṭaka: While until the end of the first millennium the members of the ruling dynasties were predominantly close to Jainism, towards the middle of the 12th century the Vīraśaivas gained more and more power. The strengthening of the Vīraśaivas demanded a counter-reaction from the Jainas, a confrontation with and clear dissociation from the values and rituals of their rivals. In this tense environment, Janna - court poet, minister and army commander under the Hoysaḷa kings Ballāḷa II (1173-1220) and Nārasiṃha II (1220-1235) - chose the story of King Yaśōdhara 1209 as the subject of his first major poem. King Yaśōdhara, who as a result of a symbolic act of violence - the sacrifice of a cock made of dough - has to suffer the most terrible rebirths and cruel ways of death, is an ideal example for the propagation of the concept of ahiṃsā, non-violence in deeds, words and thoughts, which is central to Jainism. By exploring this text, an important contribution will be made to the study of the particular interactions between religious currents that take place through literary communication. Questions of political influence, of rivalry for patronage and of legitimacy, which played a central role in medieval India alongside religious interests, will be examined from the perspective of the Yaśōdharacarite and its author. New insights into the continuity of tensions between Jainism and the various Hindu traditions from the Middle Ages to modern times will be gained by investigating the Jīvadayāṣṭamī-nōmpu, which – with Janna’s Yaśōdharacarite as the central text – formed as a kind of “counter-ritual” in clear dissociation to the violent practices of the Hindu Navarātrī; this ritual has so far received little attention in research. In addition to these aspects, processes of vernacularisation and regionalisation will be studied on the basis of the Yaśōdharacarite, which stands at the crossroads of pan-Indian and regional literary culture: Here too, this work occupies a key position between chronologically preceding texts in the supra-regional languages of Sanskrit, Jaina-Mahārāṣṭrī and Apabhraṃśa and a lively literary tradition in Kannaḍa. Questions of translation, transmission and adaptation in the South Asian region will also be included in this project, as will an analysis of Janna’s Yaśōdharacarite from the point of view of “adaptive reuse”, which will provide important insights into Janna’s religious and political environment.

Keywords: Jainism, Karnataka, Kannaḍa, religious history, mediaeval India, ritual, vernacularisation, regionalisation

Researcher: Anna Aurelia Esposito