[INDOLOGY] Quick report on the 44th Conference on South Asia, Madison Wisconsin. 22-25 October 2015

McComas Taylor McComas.Taylor at anu.edu.au
Mon Oct 26 13:34:25 UTC 2015

Quick report on the 44th Conference on South Asia, Madison Wisconsin. 22-25 October 2015

McComas Taylor

It would be hard not to love Madison: a university town with bike lanes everywhere, surrounded by lakes, filled with autumn colour and boasting 120 varieties of craft beer on tap. This was my first South Asian conference in Madison, and is unlikely to be my last. It featured eight hundred participants, 146 panels, and many great papers in a glitzy hotel at the top end of town. Day Minus One saw an assortment of ten specialist preconferences, mostly 12 papers focused on one theme. The Bhakti preconference on Hindu devotionalism was a great success. It was attended by some of the top names in the field, whose work I have known for years, but whom I met here for the first time.
The conference-proper ran over two and a half days. Papers varied from strontium isotopes in goat droppings in Gujarat to better ways of teaching Hindi. Classical, Sanskritic, philological panels were rather thin on the ground, the conference being dominated by anthropology. My colleague Beth Rohlmann from University of Calgary and I ran the first ever panel on the Sanskrit genre of puranas with five papers. Our panel attracted an audience of 30 scholars and sparked lots of good discussion. It was definitely worth repeating. Another pleasing feature for me was the interest in performance of text, with a whole session dedicated to Linda Hess' newly published book on performance of Kabir. This was very gratifying for me as my own book on performance of the Bhagavatapurana is now in press. I feel that I am riding the crest of a 'performative turn' in South Asian studies.
The conference was pleasantly free of pomp and ceremony - just a wonderful keynote by my personal tutelary deity and known cage-rattler Wendy Doniger. She delivered a masterly performance on-what else?-sex and money, or the intertextual relationship between the two Sanskrit classics, the Kamasutra and the Arthashastra. Truly scholarly, but at the same time witty, warm, engaging and modest, Doniger excels at bringing the very best of Indic scholarship to a general audience. There is a lot we can learn from here. The diva's stellar delivery was greeted by 60-second standing ovation.
The second evening's entertainment was provided by Dr Devendra Sharma and company in the form of Nautanki, a comic North Indian folk-opera tradition. The troupe of three, accompanied by a mridanga-drum and a harmonium, performed. Five short skits in Hindi had that audience roaring with delight. These included a bandit-chief who tried to explain to his wife why he was always broke, a beautiful central Asian princess attempting to seduce a reluctant Indian prince, and the sage Narada who informed poor Valmiki that Hanuman had just written a better Ramayana.
A great conference in a wonderful location, lots of good scholarship and networking over pints of Spotted Cow. I am already looking forward to the 45th Madison conference.

McComas Taylor, Associate Professor
College of Asia and the Pacific
The Australian National University, Tel. + 61 2 6125 3179
Website: https://sites.google.com/site/mccomasanu/
Address: Baldessin Building 4.24, ANU, ACT 0200

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