Conférences de Christopher Minkowski

Maison de l'Asie  -  22, avenue du Président Wilson  -  75016 Paris
1. The Lives and Livelihoods of Brahmins in the Sixteenth Century Deccan: the Case of Sūrya Paṇḍita
This is the first of four lectures on the intellectual engagements of Brahmins living in the Deccan in the early modern period, when political and cultural changes began to transform their world. As the sixteenth century went on, the Mughal kingdom came to ascendancy in the north, while in the south the Vijayanagara kingdom faltered.  In the turmoil-ridden lands between, even the practitioners of the Sanskrit disciplines were forced to adapt. Some entered the service of the local states, while others contemplated migrating, south to Vijayanagar or north to Banaras.  Some managed to continue their families’ lives of learning, and in some memorable cases, they did so in efflorescent ways. An edifying example of this history is the career of Sūryadāsa, usually known as Sūrya Paṇḍita, ‘le pundit soleil’. A scientist, philosopher, religious thinker, and poet, Sūrya lived in a village near the Godāvarī river for most of the sixteenth century. His writings capture for us some of the energies of the moment, in their erudition, their polymathia, and their daring.

Le lundi 21 Mars 2011, de 14h à 16h, à la Maison de l’Asie (22, Avenue du Président Wilson, 75016), dans le cadre du séminaire de Lyne Bansat-Boudon.

 2.  Can One Ever Be Too Learned? Poetic Feeling in the Cognitive World of the Sanskrit Polymath

Many treatises in the Sanskrit sciences were composed in every period in a simpleand serviceable metrical form. The literary tradition did not consider thesetexts poetry.  Like some other śāstrins of his period, however, Sūryadāsa made use of literary poetic forms as aninstrument of scientific expression, and through that instrument sought toremap the contours of several Sanskrit disciplines. He wrote poetry thatpresented a natural-scientific description of the world, and that payed homageto the gods in that world. He was the creator of an extraordinary genre of Sanskrit poetry, the palindromic or two-directional poem, to be read bothforward and back. He also used evocative poetry as the vehicle for articulatinghis own form of Vedāntic theology.  Tracingthe role of subjective experience in these works provides a way ofunderstanding something of Sūryadāsa’s cognitive world, and offers an exampleof the intellectual ferment among the schools of Vedānta, for whom this was atumultuous century. 

Le lundi 28 Mars, de 14h à 16h, à la Maison de l’Asie (22, Avenue du Président Wilson, 75016), dans le cadre du séminaire de Lyne Bansat-Boudon.

3. The Śāstric Study of Islamic Sciences and the Memory of Sūryadāsa

Sūryadāsa, a learned Vedic Brahmin and innovative thinker of the sixteenth century, was one of the firstśāstrīs to attempt a description of the Islamic astral sciences current in India in his day.  In his work he endorsed a position of pragmatic engagement with this ‘alien’ science. Nevertheless a Sanskrit poetical biography of Sūrya composed two centuries later remembered him as an extra-Vedic tantric, who used his yogic powers in implacable resistance to the Muslim ruler of Ahmadnagar, the Deccani state in which he lived.  Why did the recollection of Sūrya take this unexpected shape?  The lecture will trace the memory in Sanskrit writings of Muslim rulers and their patronage, and review the communication, or lack thereof, between specialists in the Brahminical learned disciplines and their Indian counterparts in thelearned disciplines expressed in Arabic and Persian.

Le mercredi 6 Avril en salle 7, au 105 Bd. Raspail 75006 Paris, dans le cadre de la journée d’études Cultures et constructions historiques dans l’Asie du Sud de la première modernité organisée par Pascale Haag et Corinne Lefèvre.

4.  Sūryadāsa and the Consistency of the Sanskrit Disciplines

 The Sanskrit author Sūryadāsa belonged to a Brahmin family of experts in the exact sciences in Sanskrit, and was active in this discipline among others.  For him, as for other Sanskritic scientists of the sixteenth century, there were several taxonomies of the natural world available, each belonging to a different discipline.  These taxonomies were not commensurate with each other, and sometimes in contradiction. Sūrya was concerned, like others in his period, to coordinate them and to reconcile some of their contradictions. Late in life, he produced a compendium that attempted to do so. One of the chapters even described the language and method of contemporary Islamic astronomers . The  problems and quandaries that Sūrya Paṇḍita faced are relevantto those of us today who study the scientific disciplines termed ‘pre-modern’and ‘non-western’.

Le vendredi 8 avril de 11h à 13h, dans la salle des artistes au 96 Bd. Raspail 75006 Paris, dans le cadre du séminaire Terminologies techniques: geneses, développements, comparaisons et adaptations, coordonné par Emilie Aussant, Caterina Guenzi et Pascale Haag.


  • le lundi 21 mars 2011  de 14h  à 16h
  • le lundi 28 mars 2011  de 14h  à 16h
  • du mercredi 6 avril 2011 au  lundi 28 mars 2011 à 16h
  • le vendredi 8 avril 2011  de 11h  à 13h

Haut de page