My research revolves around the history of Śaivism, the devotional cult of the god Śiva, one of the major religious movements within the Hindu fold. In particular, I study pre-modern Sanskrit sources for the religious and social history of Śaivism during the early medieval period, including prescriptive texts on ritual and theology (e.g. Śaiva Tantras and ritual manuals), as well as literature on Śaiva mythology and sacred places (the Sanskrit Purāṇas). From its inception sometime in the third or fourth century CE, Śaivism grew to dominate the religio-political landscape of South Asia, often in competition with rival traditions such as Vaiṣṇavism or Buddhism, and exerted its influence even as far as Indonesia and Cambodia as we can see from epigraphical records and archeological remains throughout these areas. Śaivism thus constitutes an important point of reference for the transmission of religious ideas in pre-modern South and South-East Asia.
At present, I am researching epigraphical sources attesting to the presence of Śaivism in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal during the Licchavi period (ca. fourth to eighth centuries CE), the time of the earliest historical records in the valley. Sandwiched between India and Tibet, Nepal was a central avenue of transmission of Indic religious and cultural features - of both Hinduism and Buddhism - that contributed towards shaping the Nepalese socio-religious milieu in the early medieval period. The inscriptions of that time, which are entirely written in Sanskrit, advertise an Indic model of kingship and socio-religious organization that the ruling elite appears to have implemented on what must have been a multifarious society in the valley with strong local traditions. A dominant theme in the epigraphical corpus is the propitiation of Śiva, which constituted an important element of medieval Nepalese religious and political life. Śiva in the local form of Śiva Paśupati rose to become Nepal's tutelary deity, whose shrine remains the national temple up until this day.
During my fellowship at the IIAS, I will in particular focus on the question of how Śiva was conceptualized in the early medieval literary culture of Nepal through descriptions in benedictory verses (praśasti) of the Licchavi inscriptions. The collected sources will be evaluated with the aim to explore the precursors and parallels of these myths within other Sanskrit sources on Śaiva mythology. With this project I hope to contribute to the larger project of developing a historical study of early Śaivism in the Kathmandu Valley that aims to contextualize it in the wider setting of pre-modern South and Southeast Asian religious history while presenting a clearly circumscribed case study.