The fall of the indigo jackal : the discourse of division and Pūrṇabhadra's Pañcatantra

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2005

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Taylor, McComas

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Abstract

A jackal, who had fallen into a vat of indigo dye, decided to exploit his marvellous new appearance and declared himself king of the forest. He appointed the lions and other animals as his vassals, but took the precaution of having all his fellow jackals driven into exile. One day, hearing the howls of the other jackals in the distance, the indigo jackal's eyes filled with tears of joy and he let forth a piercing cry. The lions and the others, realising the jackal's true nature, sprang on him and killed him. This well-known story and many others like it are found in a recension of the Pancatantra, a collection of Sanskrit tales for children, compiled by a Jaina monk named Purnabhadra in the twelfth century CE. Why did the indigo jackal fall from power, and why was his demise inevitable? What social forces are at work here? What discourses give shape and structure to this and other narratives in the Pancatantra? What enables these discursive statements to function effectively? In the first chapter of this thesis, I provide a general introduction to the Pancatantra, its history and development. I describe its place in Indian and world literature, its structure and content, and I summarise the debates about its 'moral' and 'meaning' with specific reference to Purnabhadra's recension. This is followed by a critical survey of recent scholarship on the Pancatantra and a formulation of the questions to be addressed in this the­sis. The fictional meta-society of the Pancatantra is a world of lions and jackals, kings and laundrymen. The inhabitants of this world are, in gen­ eral, divided and characterised according to their jati, or 'kind', and certain sets of attributes are ascribed to each. This 'discourse of division' holds that individuals' essential natures, status and social circle are all determined by their birth. In the second chapter, I explore the ways in which this dis­ course is articulated in Purnabhadra's Pancatantra. Discourses such as these are often so ingrained in the fabric of so­ ciety-so 'natural'-that they become almost invisible. Discursive state­ ments cannot function in a vacuum, and they require a particular infra­ structure to lend them credibility. In the third chapter, I describe the 're­ gime of truth' that provides validation for the discourse of division. I have identified five elements that constitute this regime: the employment of an authoritative voice, the universalisation of the discourse, adherence to the sastric paradigm, the intertextual nature of the text itself, and the naturali­ sation of the discourse, a process by which social structures are validated through projection into the natural world. In the fourth chapter I compare the discourse of division in the Pancatantra with the broader discourse in the 'hegemonic texts' of the brahmanical archive: the Vedas, Brahmanas, Puranas, the epics, Dharma­ Sastras and the Dharmasutras. I show how the archive provides a cultural context in which the discourse of division in the Pancatantra may be under­ stood and interpreted. In the fifth chapter, I illustrate how all these factors contribute to the indigo jackal's downfall and I show why his fall was inevitable, given the nature of the Pancatantra. On the basis of my findings, I suggest some fu­ ture avenues of enquiry, and I attempt a preemptive defence of my meth­ odology and findings. I conclude with a brief reflection on the nature of discourse and its contemporary significance.

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Thesis (PhD)

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10.25911/5d78d81fc29df

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