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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 5.1 (2022): 289–312;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Text and Image & Buddhist Biography)

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In-Between Biography: Ramacharana’s Shankaradeva and Amar Singh’s Surdas

Jack Stratton HAWLEY
Barnard College, Columbia University

Abstract: In the reign of Maharana Amar Singh II of Mewar (1698– 1710) poems attributed to the Brajbhasha poet Surdas were for the first time subjected to a process of selection that caused them to represent the childhood of Krishna alone—apart from any other aspects of the deity’s life story. Remarkably, this innovation happened in a visual environment, in a set of fifty miniature paintings tagged Sursagar, that is, ‘Sur’s Ocean’. Thus it seems that the ocean itself was reformatted, emerging as this particular lake. After that point in time the poet came increasingly to be thought of as a specialist in Krishna’s childhood. Was this, in effect, his life? Was his biography leveraged onto the life-story of the deity he cherished most in such a way as to create a sort of ‘in between’ biography? We will approach these questions with substantial help from Phyllis Granoff’s study of the influential biography of Shankaradeva attributed to Ramacharana.

Keywords: Ramacharana, Shankaradeva, Amar Singh II, Surdas, Granoff


About the Author: John Stratton Hawley—informally, Jack—is Claire Tow Professor of Religion at Barnard College, Columbia University. His most recent books on India’s bhakti traditions are A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement (Harvard, 2015), Sur’s Ocean (with Kenneth Bryant, Harvard, 2015), a poem-by-poem commentary called Into Sur’s Ocean (Harvard Oriental Series, 2016), and Krishna’s Playground: Vrindavan in the 21st Century (Oxford, 2020). He is the co-editor of two recent volumes bearing on bhakti: Text and Tradition in Early Modern North India (Oxford, 2018) and Bhakti and Power: Debating India’s Religion of the Heart (University of Washington and Orient BlackSwan, 2019). A Storm of Songs received the A. K. Coomaraswamy Book Prize of the Association for Asian Studies in 2017; Sur’s Ocean received the A. K. Ramanujan Book Prize for Translation of the Association for Asian Studies in 2018. Jack has received multiple awards from NEH, the Smithsonian, and the AIIS. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fulbright-Nehru Fellow, and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


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