Dozens of students and faculty members listened as Dalpat Rajpurohit, a lecturer of Hindi-Urdu language and culture at Columbia University, presented his research about a renowned Hindi poet’s approach to literature in 17th century India.
Sundardas, the focus of Rajpurohit’s research, was a Hindi sant who expressed his ideas in a way unique for his time. In Indian culture, a sant traditionally was a holy figure that communicated ideas, stories and teachings while living a life to serve truth and wisdom. Sants communicated without poetic rhetoric to allow their messages to reach a simple audience.
This boundary between simplicity and poetry, Rajpurohit explains, was broken down by the writings of Sundardas.
“Poetry was a medium for him to explore his curiosity,” Rajpurohit said.
This approach, Rajpurohit explains, transformed the conversations of the time by creating more ideological and scholarly discourse of riti. Riti is a broad term that translates to “etiquette,” “method” and “order,” among others.
“Sundardas made the texts more linguistically accessible than if it had been otherwise,” Rajpurohit said. “It was read by a broad range of audiences.”
“(Sundardas’) writing engaged with people’s understanding of how people should conduct themselves. Other sants did the same, just without poetry,” said Justin Ben-Hain, a graduate student of Asian cultures and languages at UT.
As a result, Rajpurohit explains, Sundardas started to replace traditional texts and messages with his own poetic body of text. It provided different content and different knowledge for Indian culture.
Rajpurohit believes this change altered the political discourse and ways of thinking in early modern India at the turn of the 20th century.
The presentation was part of Rajpurohit’s attempt to beat out three other candidates and earn a teaching position in the Asian Studies department at UT.
“I know a lot of students who would love for (Rajpurohit) to come here,” said Charlotte Giles, Asian culture and languages graduate student. “We need someone who is actually going to help us with our research.”
UT’s Department of Asian Studies is one of the largest and most notable in the country, employing over 40 instructors.
As a graduate student, Giles has input on the school’s decision whether to hire Rajpurohit, and she is hopeful that he will be hired.
“But there are a lot of great candidates that really want this position,” Giles said.