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Indian Poetics (Kāvya Śāstra) and Narratology Towards the Appreciation of Biblical Narrative


G. Ayyaneth

Though the biblical and the Indian literary traditions had independent origin and growth in terms of spatial and cultural milieux, there are literary landscapes of confluence where the literary fabrics of their collective wisdom are interwoven. Both narrative traditions have rich oral and folk prehistoric traditions in their records and this attribute provides a substratum where their narrative patterns and paradigms can find a common ground. A Hebraic reading of the Bible does not exhaust the meaning of the biblical texts; on the other hand, an Indian reading of the Bible could bring more flesh and blood to the living text. Ancient Indian Kāvya Śāstra (Poetics) and its modern rendering narratology being multifarious and mutually integrative will be able to supply a variety of poetical tools and devices with which the great and vast miscellany of biblical narrative can be approached and appreciated. Indian religious tradition is more narrative/story rather than doctrinal or dogmatic. This demands an Indian reading of the Bible endowed with a narratological and synchronic approach to disentangle the biblical narrative from the burden of dogmas and doctrines and to re-launch its primordial narrative/story culture. The application of the canons of Indian Kāvya Śāstra with its narratological elucidations to the biblical narrative has categorically proved that it can open up a new horizon to an Indian reading of the Bible. Various such narrative approaches, heuristic devices and models thus evolved have been applied to selected narratives in the Davidic Episode of the Books of Samuel.

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1. In the strict sense of classical Sanskrit Poetics, Kāvya “is distinguished from three other branches of composition: (1) scriptures or ‘canonical’ works āgama; (2) traditions or history Itihāsic; (3) systematic treatises on any subject Śāstra.” (Warder 1989 (vol. 1): 1)

Chapter One

1 The word Vyāsa also means split, differentiate, arrange, distribute or describe. The sage Vyāsa is here represented not as the author but as the arranger or the compiler of the Védas, the Itihāsics and the Purāṇas. Traditional Hindu belief is that Vyāsa categorised the primordial single Véda into four, so “Splitter of the Védas.” The “splitting” being an effort which permitted people to understand divine knowledge of the Véda was to be viewed as something positive, not as an act of distortion, which historical critiques say about the formation of biblical literature.

2 This trend has been critically evaluated by Prof. George M. Soares-Prabhu, who was one of the pioneers of an Indian approach to biblical exegesis and I myself was a student of his in Pune. He argues: “His (Indian seminary Professor’s) theology and exegesis, when it is not mere theological reporting, operates on borrowed models, usually (like the armaments sold by the Great Powers to the Third World) last year’s models; for theological trends take time to cross the sea.” (Padinjarekuttu 1999 (vol. 2): 9) ← 267 | 268 →

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