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The Agonistic Poetics of Dāsya - bhāva: the Soteriological Confrontation Between Deity and Devotee

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Abstract: The devotional literatures across the Hindu bhakti traditions of medieval India are shaped by distinctive styles of affective responses to the divine reality. A theme which recurs in several layers of their songs is a theological dialectic between divine majesty and divine accessibility; the divine is not only simply transcendent in the sense of being a distant deity but is also immanently present in and through a range of human sensitivities, emotions, and affectivities. We will highlight the dialectic in the devotional songs of three medieval figures, Tulsīdās (c. 1600), Sūrdās (c. 1600), and Mādhavadeva (1489–1596), which are structured primarily by the devotional attitude of a servant (dāsa) towards the Lord. As we will see, this theological servitude is not to be understood as a form of abject servility, for the three poets, in their somewhat distinctive ways, can not only speak of the Lord as a friend and as a lover, but can even level various kinds of complaints, challenges, and accusations at the Lord. Thus, if the Lord’s transcendental sovereignty is emphasised by the devotee through the modes of self-censure, the Lord’s immanent availability is also highlighted through the protests that the devotee fervently makes to the seemingly uncaring Lord.


Funder: University of Cambridge


Original Article, Bhakti, Tulsīdās, Sūrdās, Mādhavadeva

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Journal of Dharma Studies

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Springer International Publishing