Mobilizing Krishna’s World

Pauwels, Heidi R.M. 2017. Mobilizing Krishna’s World: The Writings of Prince Sāvant Singh of Kishangarh. Seattle, University of Washington Press; Hyderabad, Orient Blackswann (262 pages) ISBN 978-0-295-74223-6

Savant Singh (1694-1764), the Rajput prince of Kishangarh, is famous for commissioning beautiful works of miniature painting and composing Krishna bhakti poetry under the nom de plume Nagaridas. Behind the idyllic world of the poetry and paintings lies a tragic life story: while designated the crown prince by his father, he never managed to ascend the throne, losing it to  his younger brother. In the political tumult of the mid-eighteenth century, it proved hard to forge the necessary military alliances to regain his kingdom.

While on the road, seeking support for his cause, Savant Singh continued composing poetry. This book studies three of his more lengthy works  authored in this turbulent period: an autobiographical pilgrimage account, Tirthananda; a hagiographic anthology, Pad-prasang-mala; and a reworking of the story of Rama, Ram-carit-mala. While  mobilizing soldiers, Savant Singh also mobilized myths, songs, and stories about saints to cope with his personal and political crisis.

In Tirthananda, Nagaridas focuses on the comfort of the good company (satsang) he finds in centers of pilgrimage (tirthas) along the way, and in Braj where he settled down. His account of how  major festivals were celebrated in Braj at the time provides historical depth to today’s calendar cycle of this center of Krishna pilgrimage. In Pad-prasang-mala, he  provides anecdotes that attest to the popularity of his favorite devotional songs, including those in Sanskrit by Jayadeva, in Marathi by Namdev, in Gujarati by Narsi Mehta, in Sant Bhasha by Kabir and Raidas, in Avadhi by Tulsidas, and of course in Braj by Mira, Surdas, Svami Haridas,  and many others. Finally, in his anthology Ram-Carit-Mala, he reworks the story of Rama, which acquires a poignant existential meaning for him as a prince in exile with his throne usurped by his brother.

Mobilizing Krishna's World allows us a glimpse into a world of intrigue involving political and religious reform movements, but also a promise of comfort in turbulent times.

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