Sangeeta Desai

Living the Text in South India

This talk focuses on the Bhāgavata saptāha–the seven-day exposition of the Hindu devotional text, the Bhāgavata Purāna. The Bhāgavata Purāna, a devotional text centered upon the life of the deity Krishna, is one of the most widely circulated Hindu texts in India. Drawing upon tools from literary analysis, we will explore the saptaha as a form of reading in oral societies. Using as a case study the 90th annual saptaha of Kolluru, a village in Andhra Pradesh, I examine the audience’s role in the performance. Employing Eco’s idea of the model reader, I illustrate how the saptāh’s seven-day structure and concomitant rituals and austerities, in conjunction with the Bhāgavata Purāna’s narrative frames, position the audience as key devotional characters in the text, thereby transforming them into performers as well. By revealing these further layers of the performance, ultimately both the multivalent layers of the Bhāgavata Purāna that are read during the saptāha, as well as of the saptāha, itself can be exposed.

Sangeeta Desai will be finishing her dissertation on the performative and textual history of the Bhāgavata Purāna over the summer and defending sometime in early spring.