Imagining a Place for Buddhism Literary Culture and Religious Community in Tamil-Speaking South India


This study argues that, in early medieval South India, it was in the literary arena that religious ideals and values were publicly contested. While Tamil-speaking South India is today celebrated for its preservation of Hindu tradition, non-Hindu religious communities have played a significant role in shaping the religious history of the region. Among the least understood of such non-Hindu contributions is that of the Buddhists, who are little understood because of the scarcity of remnants of Tamil-speaking Buddhist culture. However, the two exant Buddhist texts in Tamil that are complete - a sixth-century poetic narrative known as the Manimekalai and an eleventh-century treatise on grammar and postics, the Viracoliyam - reveal a wealth of information about their textual communities and their vision of Buddhist life in a diverse and competitive religious milieu. By focusing on these texts, Monius sheds light on their role of literature and literary culture in the information, articulation, and evolution of religious identity and community.

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