This two-day conference will consider the concept of a Hindu heaven—Vaikuṇṭha—through the lens of texts, performance and the visual arts of the Śrīvaisṇava community. As with several other Hindu theistic traditions, Śrīvaiṣṇavism closely associates ideas of heaven or hell with those of salvation. Through a systematic theology building on a range of scriptural and devotional works spanning nearly 2000 years (vedic, epic, purāṇic, and post-puraṇic), Śrīvaiṣṇavaism has conceived of salvation as an entry into Viṣṇu’s dwelling—depicted as a paradisical cityscape, Vaikuṇṭha – where the benefits of opulence, proximity, community and infinite bliss can be experienced for eternity, in all their totality. There is a long textual tradition of the depiction of Vaikuṇṭha from Sanskrit mythic sources to the ecstatic Tamil poetry of the Divyaprabandham to the praise-poems and esoteric secret literature of the tradition’s most important teachers. This symposium seeks to examine the genealogies and instantiation of Vaikuṇṭha as a place on heaven and on earth within the context of the history of the Śrīvaiṣṇava community.
In his path-breaking study of Buddhist heavenly and earthly utopias in his 1998 book, “Nirvāṇa and Other Buddhist Felicities,” Steve Collins provided us with a wide-ranging textual study the intellectual and cultural world of Pāli literature, the Pāli imaginaire as he called it. The study shows us that the ultimate, soteriological goal of nirvāṇa was but one among manifold “felicities” in Buddhism. Thus, the book pays attention to both worldly felicities as well as Buddhist heavens, to utopian narratives as well as millennial thought in Theravada Buddhism. He also makes the claim that “any notion of eternal bliss, whether timeless or endless, Buddhist or Christian, or of any other kind, cannot coherently become an object of imagination articulated in a narrative”. In this symposium on a non-Buddhist heaven, the Vaiṣṇava/Śrīvaiṣṇava Vaikuṇṭha, the panelists will also engage with and debate Collins’ work, particularly the non-narratability of utopia in relation to life in Viṣṇu’s paradise.
→ Download detailed program 2022-12-01&02 Vaikuntha Conference Program.pdf
→ Download flyer 2022-12-01&02 Vaikuntha Conference Flyer.pdf
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