Gunning Lectures

Professor Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad of Lancaster University delivers this year's Gunning Lectures

Colour head and shoulders photo of Professor Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad
Professor Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad

Series Abstract

'Gender and Emotions in a Hindu Epic'

The epic Sanskrit composition, the Mahābhārata (The Great Bhārata/India; 1st-5th c CE) has been recognized as placing a vast panoply of human experience before the audience/reader. Whoever has encountered it take its own declaration at something like face value: "What is found here, may be found elsewhere. What is not found here, will not be found elsewhere." It has proved to be an endless mine for religious, philosophical, literary, cinematic, and popular readings and re-tellings. In these lectures, I will present some episodes – some extremely famous, others less known – for what they can convey to us about some key emotions and their contextual registers. The emotions (bhava) themselves are thematized in classical India from the time of the Nātya Śāstra (Treatise on Drama; c 1st c CE) in a variety of ways, and each of these lectures picks up on one such emotion, and explores its expression in an episode. Furthermore, I bring out gendered features of these episodes that are self-consciously present in the text but have never been thematized as such. The aim of the lectures is to introduce the power of the text’s multidimensional narrative, the philosophical sensitivity with which the emotions speak of the human condition, and the intriguing ways in which gender is present in the very fabric of these narratives.

Professor Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad

Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster University, and Fellow of the British Academy. He has written some eight books, including Divine Self, Human Self, Bloomsbury, which won the Best Book 2011-14 Prize of the Society for Hindu Christian Studies. He is currently writing a book on emotion in classical Sanskrit. He has also written well over fifty papers on a wide variety of topics.


‘The Grief of Fathers and Mothers’

Tuesday 29th November, 5.15-6.30pm, Elizabeth Templeton Lecture Theatre

The terrible war is over. The blind King Dhṛtarāṣṭra has lost all hundred of his mostly evil sons, the Kauravas. In the face of his grief, his wise half-brother Vidura counsels him through therapies for grief well-established in the text; but to no avail, as his anger and sorrow remain. Queen Gāndhārī too expresses grief vividly to the cousin of the dead warriors, Kṛṣṇa (revealed to be the descent of God Viṣṇu to earth), and curses him for allowing such horror to happen. His acceptance of her words is acknowledgement that tragedy is inescapable.

This lecture will be followed by a reception in the Rainy Hall.


‘Wonder and Theophany’

Tuesday 1st December, 5.15-6.30pm, Elizabeth Templeton Lecture Theatre

Wonder or amazement (vismaya) becomes a key theological emotion in later Hindu texts, but arguably, the most influential expression of it is given within the Mahābhārata in the Bhagavad-Gītā (The Song of the Lord), the passage on the eve of the climatic battle where the Pāṇḍava Prince Arjuna loses his resolve upon seeing what is to come, and is instructed on duty by his charioteer and cousin, Kṛṣṇa, who reveals himself as God in the climactic theophany at the heart of this episode. Arjuna’s reception of this revelation is a tightly constructed expression of human wonder in the face of the divine. I juxtapose this speculatively with the crisp and matter of fact way in which Arjuna’s wife Draupadī speaks of Kṛṣṇa’s divinity.