In the 1730s, a court minister named Ghanaśyāma wrote a set of literary commentaries alongside his two wives, Sundarī and Kamalā. This scholastic household operated under the patronage of the Maratha rulers of Tanjavur in South India. The Marathas were one among several newly established royal families in the Karnatak and Coromandel Coast region. In this talk, Kashi Gomez examines the methodological possibilities for reading early modern Sanskrit commentaries as productive historical archives. She argues that Ghanaśyāma, Sundarī, and Kamalā record Brahminical social anxieties about gender, sexuality, and local politics in the trappings of grammatical minutiae. In an unusual interpretive move this commentarial family turns a non-event into an event. They concoct a charged reference to an incident of adopted heirship in a literary text that obliquely recalls the anxieties that preceded their Maratha patron’s rise to power.
About Kashi Gomez
Kashi Gomez is Lecturer in Sanskrit in the Department of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research examines avenues of access to Sanskrit for elite women in early modernity and reevaluates the cosmopolitan aesthetic of Sanskrit. Sanskrit was and continues to be a defining language of Brahmin religious and social identities. It was and is a language written almost exclusively by men and is enshrined by literary theory as inherently representing the male voice. Her current work highlights the centrality of gender in defining the aesthetics of Sanskrit.
Her current book project examines the intellectual and social invest-ments of two co-wives and their husband who were writing Sanskrit commentaries in eighteenth-century Maratha-ruled Tanjavur. The book explores new articulations of regional identity and investments in strīdharma (the ritual and social obligations of women) that were emerging in Brahmin Sanskrit-intellectual circles at this regional court.