The Beautiful End Times: Omens and Aesthetics in the Medieval State
Observers of Hinduism have long been transfixed by two countervailing extremes: the rigorous austerity of its asceticism and the unfettered sensuality of its art and architecture. One might pose these extremities in historical terms: how is it that a society supposedly governed by Brahmanical purity and discipline produced such enduring monuments to aesthetic imagination as, say, Khajuraho or Thanjavur?
This presentation explores the role of omenology in formation of Brahmanical state ideology (rājadharma) during the Gupta period (4th-6th centuries CE). It is well known that Brahmanical legal and social thought developed in the early centuries of the common era, in historical earshot of earlier social and cultural defeat at the hands of non-Brahmanical groups. Part of this early Brahmanical ideology proposed a cyclical and degenerative theory of time, which posited the present historical era as the fourth and final age of strife (kaliyuga). Recent evidence shows that although it was not a Brahmanical tradition, astral science (Jyotiḥśāstra) both contributed to Yuga theory and integrated Brahmanical anxieties about social decline. Attending to the theories of nature found in omenological texts of this astral tradition shows how Brahmanical prophecy may have been transformed into an activist program of state building through beautification, one that would reverberate in later Hindu theology.
Co-Sponsered by the UGA Center for Asian Studies and the Department of Religion