Christian Lee Novetzke’s task in The Quotidian Revolution is to explain two intertwined aspects of the medieval western Indian past: first, how did Marathi rise as a language of expression—public, sacral, and political—and, second, how did the concerns of everyday life, and of the common person, permeate the literary and religious imagination? This emergence of a new language of everyday sacrality and everyday politics in the thirteenth century, Novetzke offers, eventually gave shape to a pivotal geography for early modern and modern India: that of Maharashtra. Excavating the birth of newness is a challenge for any historian of India and, in the case of origins of languages and polities, this challenge is considerably magnified due to contemporary religious and ethnic politics. Novetzke’s careful study provides a model for how issues of considerable scholarly importance as well as cultural sensitivity can be addressed in the same monograph. The Quotidian Revolution is divided into three parts. Overall it focuses on two texts written in Marathi (or Old Marathi), on their political and cultural worlds, and on their ethical domains: the Līḷacaritra (ca. 1278 c.e.) and the Jñāneśvarī (ca. 1290 c.e.), associated with Chakradhar (ca. 1194 c.e.) and Jnandev (ca. 1271 c.e.) respectively. These texts are the sacral foundations for, and inheritance of, major Vaishnav sects in contemporary India—the Varkaris and the Mahanubhavs. These texts, alongside others such as Hemadri’s Caturvarga Cintāmaṇi, have long been studied as sources for the Yadava (or Sevuna) polity which ruled from 1189 to 1317 c.e. In part I of The Quotidian Revolution, chapters 1 and 2 focus on the Yadava polity (roughly analogous to the contemporary region of Maharashtra) centered at Devgiri (now Daulatabad, Maharashtra). The Yadava were a non-Brahminic west Indian polity that participated in, per Novetzke, the Brahminic ecumene, wherein the uppermost caste—the Brahmin—were engaged with the state in various capacities such as instruction in or composition of religious texts in Sanskrit, production of rituals, maintenance of royal genealogies, running of temples and monasteries, patronage of schools of theory, instruction in sciences and arts, and the training of bureaucratic and literary classes (58). Novetzke argues that the relative stability of the Yadava polity, as well as this concern of the few with the few, opened up spaces for spiritual and literary entrepreneurs. Chakradhar and Jnandev were two such entrepreneurs who (as Brahmins) critiqued social inequality and argued for the production of sacral texts in Marathi. Chapter 3 turns to the received biographies of Chakradhar and Jnandev and presents them as “authors” of radical everydayness outside the later hagiographies. Part II examines the Līḷacaritra for capturing the vernacularization in progress for medieval western India in the late thirteenth century. In vernacularization Novetzke tackles a complex of ideas: a (performative) language of the public that renders an ethos and sacrality, in contradistinction to the male, Brahminical Sanskrit; a mode of “indigenizing” discursive mediums such as gender subversion, art, dance, dress, architecture, politics, and literature; a method of highlighting the everyday livelihoods in highly aestheticized genres of representation. Reading the didactic and performative aspects of Līḷacaritra, Novetzke reflects on passages and dialogues concerning intermingling of castes, roles of women, and the specific ways in which Chakradhar and his early followers “decenter” the temple as a node in the Brahminic ecumene. As he describes: “the vernacularization was about place, the temple and the networks that surround temples, and about the economy that formed around the entrepreneurial spiritual teachers of the age” (167). Chapter 5 examines the necessity of the Marathi language for the Līḷacaritra. Here Novetzke argues that both the social critique of Brahmin caste practices as well as the desire to propagate the teaching of Chakradhar to an audience unattached to the Yadav royalty drove this vernacularization of piety. Part III focuses on Jñāneśvarī and tackles in chapter 6 the question of language and social purity by exploring why this Marathi commentary on the Bhagavad Gītā was written to bring the message of Krishna and Arjuna to “women, low castes, and others” (xiii, 15, 235–237). The Jñāneśvarī offers a (somewhat) radical availability of salvation and ethics for the Marathi publics. In chapter 7, Novetzke offers a compelling reading of the Jñāneśvarī and the ways in which difference and transgression intertwine to open up possibilities of critique and empathy across caste strictures. He posits a “sonic equality” where the Marathi public sphere could hear the possibilities of caste equality, albeit still from a socially conservative position (283). It is in this chapter that the diffuse categories of public, common, and everyday coalesce as the “quotidian” for Novetzke’s argument. Novetzke remarks in the beginning that the Yadav polity already rested within Sanskrit, Kannada, and Marathi literary cultures (51–53). But, we can make it even more complex. Already for nearly five hundred years, Arabic had been a language of the port cities and desert forts of medieval western India, influencing vocabularies from Gujarati to Konkani. Persian would enter Devgiri in the late thirteenth century when the last of the Yadava rulers, Ramachandra (r. ca. 1271–1311) was captured by ʿAlauddin Khilji in 1294. The capture (and ransoming) of Devgiri provided so much wealth for ʿAlauddin that he was able to catapult himself onto the throne at Delhi and proceed for another decade to send expeditions to Devgiri. The Yadav capital—much like Warangal, the capital of the southern Indian Kakatiya polity—were integral nodes of the temple economy that Novetzke describes as being disrupted by these vernacular “entrepreneurs.” Yet, what stays marginal to Novetzke’s analysis are the Persianate polities from Delhi (almost 800 miles due north from Devgiri) that also disrupted and transformed the quotidian and sacral lives in Gujarat, in Maharashtra, and, after 1398 c.e., in the Deccan. While the Muslims’ arrival is temporally right at the end of Novetzke’s time frame, conceptually it forms the genesis of the historical memory of these Vaishnava sects. The Līḷacaritra survived the Khilji campaigns because it was committed to memory by a female devotee, Hiraisa (180), and subsequently “recovered”; and Chakradhar in some cases actually prophesied the arrival of the “impure” Muslims (199). In other words, the historical development of both the sacral traditions, and the textual commentary discussed by Novetzke are fully within an Indic Muslim milieu. It is thus necessary to incorporate Persianate sources in the excavation of Indic revolutionary pasts. Novetzke’s emplacement of key medieval Marathi texts deepens our understanding of the long thirteenth century and invites us to think ever more broadly about Indic pasts. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
It’s your single place to instantly
discover and read the research
that matters to you.
Enjoy affordable access to
over 18 million articles from more than
15,000 peer-reviewed journals.
All for just $49/month
Query the DeepDyve database, plus search all of PubMed and Google Scholar seamlessly
Save any article or search result from DeepDyve, PubMed, and Google Scholar... all in one place.
All the latest content is available, no embargo periods.
“Whoa! It’s like Spotify but for academic articles.”@Phil_Robichaud