Vinay Dharwadker

“Kalidasa’s Shakuntala in World Literature Today”

My new translation of the Devanagari recension of Abhijnanashakuntalam, under the title The Recognition of Shakuntala (Penguin, 2016), the first fully poetic translation in modern English, provides a fresh opportunity to reassess the place of Kalidasa’s early-fifth-century multilingual play in the world order in the twenty-first century. As theories and canons of planetary literature have been reimagined and reconfigured in the present decade, the uniqueness of this dramatic work, of Sanskrit-Prakrit drama and theatre in general, and of Sanskrit poetics and aesthetics more widely has come into sharper focus than ever before. Among other features of Shakuntala, my critical discussion will highlight those that still make it the first complete, free-standing love story worldwide, the earliest representative of autonomous Indian, Asian, and non-European innovation for the stage, and a global paradigm of romantic comedy and cosmic drama. My analysis will also show how the play has contributed for a long time to ecological thought and environmentalism, to ideals of governance and justice, to alternative models of masculinity and women’s autonomous agency, and to resonant conceptions of cosmopolitan citizenship.

Vinay Dharwadker is Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he is also a member of the Affiliate Faculty for Languages and Cultures of Asia, the Center for South Asia, and the Center for Visual Cultures.

His publications over the past thirty years include his work as a poet, a scholar, and a translator. Among his books are: Sunday at the Lodi Gardens (poems; Viking, 1994); The Oxford Anthology of Modern Indian Poetry (editor; 1994); A. K. Ramanujan’s Collected Poems (co-editor; Oxford UP,1995) and Collected Essays (general editor; Oxford UP, 1999); and Cosmopolitan Geographies: New Locations in Literature and Culture (editor for the English Institute, Harvard U; Routledge, 2001). He is the South Asia editor of the third edition of the six-volume Norton Anthology of World Literature (2012) as well as the fourth edition (forthcoming in 2018). In 2007, his Kabir: The Weaver’s Songs (Penguin Classics, 2003, 2005) won India’s multi-year national translation prize; and his contributions to The Greenwood Encyclopedia of World Popular (2007) received the Ray and Pat Browne Award for best reference work from the American Culture Association and the Popular Culture Association.

His theoretical, historical, and interpretive essays have appeared in journals such as PMLA, Comparative Literature Studies, and Critical Inquiry. His work on various aspects of modernism, cosmopolitanism, diaspora, globalization, colonialism and postcolonialism, Indian poetics, Indian-English literature, world literature, and translation studies has also appeared in various edited collections, including, recently, The Modernist World (Routledge, 2015), A History of the Indian Novel in English (Cambridge UP, 2015), The Routledge Companion to World Literature (2012), and The Ashgate Research Companion to Cosmopolitanism (2011). He translates from Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Urdu, and Sanskrit, and has over 450 translations of poems in print in books, anthologies, and periodicals published in North America, Europe, and Asia. His translations of six Marathi modernists, for example, are featured, along with a short memoir, in the special issue of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing on Mumbai (Fall 2017).

His most recent works are: a translation of Mohan Rakesh’s paradigmatic postcolonial Hindi play, One Day in the Season of Rain, in collaboration with Aparna Dharwadker (Penguin Modern Classics, 2015); and a poetic translation of Kalidasa’s classical Sanskrit-Prakrit play, The Recognition of Shakuntala (Penguin Classics, July 2016). He will serve as the Contributing Editor for two volumes on Anglophone poetry other than British and American in the new fourteen-volume Oxford History of Poetry in English, forthcoming in the next decade.