Narasinha Mehta of Gujarat: A Legacy of Bhakti in Songs and Stories

ISBN : 9780199976423

Neelima Shukla-Bhatt
352 Pages
172 x 240 mm
Pub date
Jan 2015
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Neelima Shukla-Bhatt offers an illuminating study of Narsinha Mehta, one of the most renowned saint-poets of medieval India and the most celebrated bhakti (devotion) poet from Gujarat, whose songs and sacred biography formed a vital source of moral inspiration for Gandhi. Exploring manuscripts, medieval texts, Gandhi's more obscure writings, and performances in multiple religious and non-religious contexts, including modern popular media, Shukla-Bhatt shows that the songs and sacred narratives associated with the saint-poet have been sculpted by performers and audiences into a popular source of moral inspiration. Drawing on the Indian concept of bhakti-rasa (devotion as nectar), Narasinha Mehta of Gujarat reveals that the sustained popularity of the songs and narratives over five centuries, often across religious boundaries and now beyond devotional contexts in modern media, is the result of their combination of inclusive religious messages and aesthetic appeal in performance. Taking as an example Gandhi's perception of the songs and stories as vital cultural resources for social reconstruction, the book suggests that when religion acquires the form of popular culture, it becomes a widely accessible platform for communication among diverse groups. Shukla-Bhatt expands upon the scholarship on the embodied and public dimension of bhakti through detailed analysis of multiple public venues of performance and commentary, including YouTube videos. This study provides a vivid picture of the Narasinha tradition, and will be a crucial resource for anyone seeking to understand the power of religious performative traditions in popular media.


List of Illustrations
Note on transliteration
Part I - Devotion and Aesthetics in the Narasinha Tradition
1. Lyrics of Play- Krishna in the Human World
2. Lyrics of Awakening - Mysticism and Moral Reflection
3. Exemplary Bhakti, Exemplary Singing - Narasinha in Sacred Narratives
4. Singing as Bhakti - Musical Performances of Narasinha's Songs
Part II - The Narasinha Legacy in Religious and Popular Cultures
5. The Saint of the Threshold, the First of Poets - The Narasinha Tradition in Gujarat and Beyond
6. A Saint-poet in the Making of a Mahatma - Narasinha Mehta and Gandhi
7. Songs and the Saint in Modern Media - Narasinha in Popular Culture
Concluding Remarks

About the author: 

Neelima Shukla-Bhatt is Assistant Professor of South Asia Studies at Wellesley College.

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