Folium from the table of contents in ᴏʀɪᴍ ᴍs P 6588/9, Śivatattvaratnākara.

Project (2018)

Rewriting the World in Southwest India

This project traces the emergence of a new way of writing natural history in Kannada in the late eleventh century and the contemporaneous production of Sanskrit philosophic works of empirical foundationalism. While scientific writing (śāstra) had a long history in Sanskrit, individual texts usually downplayed or erased the context of their production. But in the eleventh century, a group of seemingly marginal poets writing in Kannada turned to natural history, bringing with them a new set of epistemic virtues that emphasized the situated knowledge of the author in producing authoritative knowledge. In repositioning where knowledge came from, these Kannada poets also redefined what could be studied: new ways of describing elephants, erotics, and agriculture were subsumed under the genres of “worldly” (laukika), and soon found their way into contemporaneous Sanskrit anthologies. These texts, which set the standard for elite consumption habits for centuries to come, helped to reshape the landscape of southwest India. At the same time and in the same court, epistemologists writing in Sanskrit were retheorizing the meaning of experience and the grounds for certain knowledge. These epistemologists redefined direct perception (pratyakṣa) in radical ways, bringing an embodied—but unmarked—individual to the center of epistemological investigation and inter-sectarian doctrinal disputes. This project studies these multiple movements together as well as their pathways of reception into the early modern period.