For my PhD, I carried out the first critical edition, translation and study of the Devīśataka, a Century of verses for the Goddess composed in citrakāvya (“figurative/marvellous poetry”) by the Kashmiri Ānandavardhana (9th c.), along with Kayyaṭa’s commentary (978 AD). During my stay at the IIAS, I will focus on a Nepalese paper manuscript (NGMCP E 371-30) written by a Buddhist scribe and carrying an incomplete version of the commentary. Its author (that I call “Nepalese Anonymous”) has modified Kayyaṭa’s text beyond recognition, so that the result reaches the status of a different, autonomous work yet to be explored.
This peculiar stratification of poem+commentary+commentary remade raises questions that are relevant to the very idea of authorship for Sanskrit texts in general: for the Anonymous and his readers, which was the degree of intervention allowed before Kayyaṭa’s text was felt no more as Kayyaṭa’s? And again, if author and scribe coincide (and here this is yet to be ascertained), can we salute him as a new intellectual personality?
Thanks to the rewrite of the Anonymous, we can improve our understanding of the difficult Devīśataka (several passages are explained more clearly than in the standard commentary), and also have a glance on its reception and transmission in a specific geographical area: for example, looking at the illustrations of pictorial verses, can we identify a Nepalese manner in deciphering and depicting citrakāvya? The Anonymous’ text contains numerous quotations from known and unknown works: following the net of these cross-references, is it possible to reconstruct the Anonymous’ library and his intellectual background? Can we ascertain if he was aware of the lost commentary by Vallabhadeva mentioned by Kayyaṭa?
Despite being centered on textual problems, this research is philological only in part: its aim is not only to restore a fragment of ancient literature through an ancient manuscript (which I will try to date and analyze paleographically), but to approach broader aspects of Indian cultural production that have lacked scholarly attention for too long. Too often in fact, citrakāvya as a genre has been summarily discarded as ‘baroque’ and ‘decadent’, while commentaries have been regarded only as fastidious yet necessary crutches with which to read ‘main’ texts. Changing perspective, I will take this specific case of study as an opportunity to reconstruct two forgotten chapters of Indian cultural history: the religious implications of citrakāvya (prāyeṇa citraviṣayo devatāstutir na sarasaṃ kāvyam “as a general rule, the subject of citrakāvya is the praise of a Deity, not poetry with rasa” summons the rhetorician Namisādhu); and the cultural engagement underlying the apparently technical project of commentators: how did the Anonymous’s Buddhist faith affect his approach to the Śataka? Why did he dwell so much in philosophical speculation while commenting on a piece of kāvya? In the end, it is clear that the Devīśataka and its commentary(es) were much more than puzzles and instructions to solve them.