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“Of Spring Songs and Scrolls: Orality and Visuality in the Vasanta Vilasa”
  • Monday, November 6, 2017 - 5:15pm to 7:00pm

Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center
6th Floor of Van-Pelt Library

We will be welcoming Deven Patel and Nachiket Chanchani for a talk entitled: “Of Spring Songs and Scrolls: Orality and Visuality in the Vasanta Vilasa.” Deven and Nachiket write:

Our presentation will bring together the disciplines of philology and art history through a pointed discussion of a single scroll.  The text of this sumptuous fifteenth-century scroll, which is eleven meters long when unrolled, is of a poem entitled Vasantavilāsa, or “Spring Diversions,” accompanied with a set of paintings.  Or, perhaps, we can say that the paintings are accompanied by the text of the poem.  This important scroll from western India, currently held in the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery, has an eminently fascinating history with a deep Penn connection.  W. Norman Brown, the founder of the Department of South Asia Studies at Penn and an American pioneer in the study of classical and contemporary South Asia, critically edited the Vasantavilāsa and produced an illustrated edition of the text with paintings in 1962.  Composed in three languages – two classical (Sanskrit and Prakrit) and one a peculiarly medieval one with a scant literature (Old Gujarātī or Old Western Rājasthānī) – the Vasantavilāsa has had a unique history as a material object. It is also a foundational literary and visual monument to the development of a local culture in medieval and early-modern Western India.  Our presentation will especially focus on the interplay of a poly-linguistic literary text and visual imagery in a context of vernacularizing social, political, and aesthetic realities and suggest that the poem represents a newly burgeoning form of an accessible classical literacy for communities that hitherto functioned without it.


Deven M. Patel is an Associate Professor and current Chair of the Department of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania as well as an affiliated faculty in Comparative Literature, Religious Studies, and the Center for Ancient Studies.  His first book, Text to Tradition: The Naisadhiyacarita and Literary Community in South Asia (Columbia University Press: 2014), traced seven hundred years of a canonical Sanskrit court epic’s reception across multiple reading communities, its literary offspring, and a range of pedagogical and artistic contexts that sustained its continuous passage through time.  Recent publications include translations and critical studies of specific interactions between South Asian literary cultures in history through the lens of “extended grammars” (grammatical descriptions of regional languages wholly composed in a classical language using a descriptive technology initially designed for that classical language) and poetics.  In 2017, Patel and visiting Penn professor R.V.S. Sundaram published a translation of the world’s first work of poetics from a vernacular perspective – the ninth-century Kannada classic work Kavirājamārga (The Way of the King of the Poets). 


Nachiket Chanchani is an Assistant Professor jointly appointed in the Departments of the History of Art and Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is concurrently a consulting curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Nachiket’s first book, Moving Mountains: The Construction of Sacrality in the Central Himalayas, will soon be published by the University of Washington Press. His writings on diverse subjects are appearing in Artibus AsiaeArchives of Asian ArtHistory of PhotographyArts OrientalisArt in TranslationArts Asiatiques, in various edited books, and on the editorial pages of the widely read Indian newspaper, The Hindu. He has been closely involved with projects at premier art museums and awarded fellowships from the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the Asian Cultural Council (New York), the Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC), the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (Amsterdam) and several other institutions.


In their new collaborative project, Dr. Patel and Dr. Chanchani are melding the study of texts in various South Asian languages, especially Sanskrit, with the development of the region’s literary and visual cultures through time.